Normally by our protected bay we don’t get flooding. But a few days ago it happened. For the first time ever. It wasn’t by any measure hurricane Katrina, but perhaps climate change has finally come to our shores, threatening our homes.
I was just going down to the study to check a few details in my manuscript.
And then another few.
Then I got a couple of ideas.
And a few more.
And started writing.
Minutes turned into hours, as so often happens when I’m working.
I could hear strong gusts of wind. The weather forecast wasn’t that good. They had been talking about a storm hitting us.
Absolutely absorbed in work, I didn’t pay much attention to it.
The storm hit us from the west and as the house is on the east side of the forest, we were quite protected. I thought about going down to the road along the ocean, to see what was going on, how high the water had risen, how big the waves were, but no matter what, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
So I stayed.
From time to time I could hear a branch being torn off a tree, but it really didn’t sound that bad. So I just kept on writing. 6 p.m. turned into 9 p.m., turned into 1 a.m., turned into 4:36 a.m., before I finally went to bed.
In the morning I woke up quite early. Curious about what the storm might have done to the garden and the beach.
The garden was fine. A few twigs and branches here and there. Not alarming in any way.
Then I walked down to the road along the ocean. Things weren’t all right. Everything had been covered in sand and seaweed. For the first time ever, the ocean had overflown the road and run a few yards into the gardens along the opposite side.
The water had now receded and was almost back to normal. The surge hadn’t created a major catastrophe, but it was the first time ever it had happened here at our protected bay.
Landings had been washed away. Terraces smashed. And the beautiful small tea pavilion by the sea had had its doors smashed and all of its furniture tumbled around by the waves. Some of it gone, some of it lying in the bushes by the road. But the pavilion itself was still there.
I sat down and looked at the devastation. Speechless.
Luckily there are no houses on the ocean side of the road. It’s just a long, narrow stretch of beach. I don’t think anybody had been hurt. Not around here. But elsewhere? I didn’t know.
It was a very strange feeling, that I had been working all night, barely 150 feet away, protected by gardens and other houses. Oblivious of what was going on.
Very odd to be so close to a minor catastrophe like this, not knowing anything about it.
I had been sitting there writing all night. Happy.
Hadn’t heard a thing. No waves, no smashing of terraces or landings. Nothing but the sound of the storm tearing in the trees of the forest.
I might as well have been on another planet.
It was like being in the eye of a hurricane where all is calm. Everything is chaos around you, but you don’t know it, because right where you are it’s all bliss and harmony.
The situation really fascinates me, now, some time after it happened.
The situation could instantaneously have changed, had the water risen even more, but it didn’t. There was quite some material damage, yes, but no one was hurt. No one got their livelihood swept away.
So I think I’m morally free to muse about it.
My fascination has to do with being present: I was writing, oblivious of anything else.
It has to do with inevitability: I could hear the storm, but I wasn’t able to do anything about it.
But perhaps most important of all: It has to do with brick.
The big, thick, brick walls surrounding me and my safe, comfortable study.
It is all about being safely at home. Where nothing or no one can bother you. Where you are free to do what you want, when you want, no matter what. That’s what’s at the heart of my feeling.
Do you have a home? If you do, then you’re lucky.
Far from all of us on our blue planet have a home to call our own.
What does that home mean to you?
What is it to be home?
Is it sleeping tightly in a cardboard box in the slums of a big city? That is, if you are lucky enough to own a cardboard box. Not everyone is. In certain areas on our blue planet, strong, sturdy cardboard boxes to sleep in are in great demand.
Is it living in a nice one room flat, where you can close your door and no one will bother you?
Is it a small house? Or a big one?
Or do you own several homes, having the hard choice of whether to spend the holidays on your island in the Caribbean, in your penthouse in New York or your chalet in the Alps? One can have sleepless nights about matters like that. No?
Or are you more of a nomad? Home is where you hang your hat?
But home is also the area, town, city, country even planet where you happen to be living.
Home can mean so many different things to different people.
And basically, haven’t we all got a right to live in a safe home?
A home where you feel safe not only from the vagaries of the weather and can sleep tightly at night, but also a home where the military or the secret police won’t come and get you, because you think and talk differently, where your every move isn’t recorded, where your online activity isn’t meticulously followed, stored and analysed by companies, intelligence agencies and big internet spiders, good, bad or in between, without your knowledge?
Of course we all have a right to that.
A human right.
I have just been down to the beach again. I was thinking of the wooden terraces and landings that had been swept away as if they had never been there.
But now that I have become accustomed to the situation, I can see it with fresh eyes.
Standing there, looking at the wide, swathe of virgin sand, swept totally clean by the storm, one wouldn’t think that a near disaster had struck a few days earlier.
It’s now the most beautiful, pristine beach you could ever imagine. Just lying there, innocently in the sun, as if nothing had happened. Waiting to be walked on by naked feet. A blissful picture-postcard scene.
The storm has passed.
The sky is clear.
Nature did its thing the other night. Did what nature mostly does: Transforms, builds up, breaks down, moves around, creates anew.
The same shifting sand.
The same water.
Flowing, evaporating, forming clouds, raining, liquefying, flowing, evaporating, forming clouds, raining…
Recycling, for millions and billions of years on our blue planet.
Demonstrating its power to give, take away and give again.
Behind it has left a clean slate.
A virgin beach.
A new beginning.
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