The ice storm was upon us. The rain had been falling since the night before, and in the cold, cold air, the water had chosen not to drip from but cling to the branches and freeze. The power lines were drooping like the fluttering eyelids of a baby fighting sleep. It was time to get home.
“But just in case there is no power when I get there,” I thought, “I should probably grab a bite to eat.” So, it was that I was sitting at the window at Zaxby’s, debit card in hard, when the lights went out. With no way to take my money and nothing else to do with my blackened blue salad with light vinaigrette dressing, the manager handed it over with a resigned smile.
“I’ll come back and pay,” I promised.
“No need,” he smiled. “Just fill out a comment card the next time you come in.”
I carefully pulled out on to Fair Road — to which I refer to as the Georgia Southern Autobahn — noticing immediately that the traffic light, like those at Zaxby’s, was out. Cars coming from all four directions were inching slowly toward the center of the intersection, their drivers trying to figure out who had the right-of-way, when it was safe to accelerate. I quickly started counting in my mind the number of traffic lights between me and home. I caught my breath when I thought of the one at 301 South and Veterans Parkway. We were on the verge of chaos.
The verge of chaos — that narrow sliver of time during which one recognizes the impending loss of control and still resists it; that place within oneself where the way things are supposed to be is still visible but fading; that physical sensation that masquerades as frustration but is nothing more than fear.
A friend of mine had surgery over the holidays. It forced her to cancel travel plans and miss seeing family. When she got back to work, she couldn’t find her rhythm. A few days after the ice storm, she wrote to me, “I can't seem to catch up. ... Is it me? Is it life? Everything feels so chaotic lately.”
I wrote back, “Is it just awful of me to say that it's a comfort to hear you use the word ‘chaotic’?”
I am uncomfortable with chaos. As a small child, I was dismayed to see a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup shelved with the Chicken and Stars at the old Piggly Wiggly on South Main and wouldn’t leave the aisle until I’d made sure that all the varieties were in their proper orders. I am unsettled by everything from an unmade bed or a crooked picture to loud arguments between people I love. I am compelled to make the bed, to get out my level and straighten the picture, to mediate the disagreement.
The past couple of months — punctuated by unusual weather events and too many funeral home visitations and a round of antibiotics — have felt like nothing less than one interminable fit of chaos. Unmade beds and uneven pictures have floated at the periphery of my vision with nary a notice. So, awful or not, it was, in fact, a comfort to know that my friend was living through something at least a little similar.
My fingers paused over the keyboard for a moment. I took a deep breath, noticed the sunshine coming through the window.
“But, then again,” I typed, “I am reminded that in all the creation stories, chaos is what existed before ... before the word is spoken, before the light separates from the darkness, before life arises. Perhaps there is hope in it.”
I wasn’t at all sure I believed it even as I hit “send.”
That night when I got home, I noticed the hydrangea between the deck and the carport — the hydrangea whose unpruned canes had condemned me every time I had walked outside since summer; the hydrangea whose shape had gone from full to skeletal; the hydrangea that, like everything else, had been coated with ice.
Sprouting from those ugly, unpruned canes were buds — chartreuse green, sharp-tipped buds; living, hopeful buds; pushing through the darkness, dispelling the chaos with the promise of beauty yet to come.
Southern Living says those buds will be blooms in late spring. I’m not certain when that is, but I think I can hang on ‘til then.