I recently came way too close to a tornado, close enough to be in the swirl of debris a tornado accumulates along its path, close enough to narrowly miss having a tree dropped on my car.  As is often the case when one skates near disaster, the tornado encounter has inspired reflection on how the smallest moments and movements of our ongoing lives can result in great changes of outcome.  Just a few minutes before driving up to the tornado, I had briefly stopped to check the forecast after tense miles of torrential rain:  had I not made that stop, would the tornado and I have run into each other rather than passing by each other?  Would mine have been the car I saw ahead of me that had a tree flung onto it?  Would I have been entirely past the area of the tornado and had no such encounter to shake me?

We talk of close calls as being wakeup calls, suggesting that we tend to move through our days with a kind of tunnel vision that allows for seeing only what we have planned (or what others have planned for us), focused on our own agendas, pursuing our own ends.  While all such descriptions suggest a life properly lived rather than being frittered away or a life without lost time and drifting, the same descriptions point to a perspective that can be too narrow, ego-driven, missing so much because the focus is so tight.  So a tornado comes along to break open that narrow focus and to wake us out of living with tunnel vision.

We also sometimes describe close calls as a “come to Jesus” experience, a moment when our lives confront us with the need to change, change significantly, how we are in the world.  While the constancy of change is a fact of experience that we know, that knowledge seems not to stop us from arranging lives that assume slowing or even halting change is a feat we can pull off.  A tornado that was not in the forecast, a tornado I had not seen coming because it was approaching from the side rather than the front, a tornado whose very existence implies everything can be caught up and overturned and flung about the landscape, seems an apt symbol for the absolute reality of change that nothing anyone of us does can stop.  Since meeting up with the tornado, I have been asking myself where I am living as if I can stop the ongoing flow of change, where I need to be making different choices, setting different priorities, especially given that all about me, including me, is always in motion, shifting, changing, moving on, never stopping.

I write this blog piece a few days after my city was hit by a tropical storm that brought several hours of pummeling winds and rain.  As I watched the storm, I wondered whether I still needed a wakeup call, a “come to Jesus” experience, to rouse me from my routines and open me to a larger life.  Or perhaps storms and tornadoes and all the suffering that comes our way are just times that we have to endure, when things are difficult and existence is uncertain. My guess would be that life is always like that but we are skilled in deluding ourselves, believing we can control most of what comes our way, believing that we can dodge bullets again and again.

In the poem “Black Rook in Rainy Weather,” Sylvia Plath notes the surprise of sudden revelatory moments, often small as a shift of light or the glimpse of a black rook in the rain, and concludes that after such experiences she tends to “walk wary” through the “dull landscape.”  After meeting up with the tornado, after having two tornadoes spawned by the tropical storm last week march towards me, I walk very wary myself, not wanting to miss what my surroundings show me ever again.  My close calls are keeping me wide awake and walking more lightly through the world because everything can change in a heartbeat—and I do not want to be distracted when it happens.