Back around 1980 (I think), I and a couple of friends from college were camped out on the tiny island of Sark (five miles by two, no automobiles) in the English Channel. A friendly farmer had allowed us to set up our tents in his field, above the cliffs that fall down steeply to the shore.
Late one night a storm blew up and by midnight it was clear that our tent was not going to last. As we struggled to break our camp and head for the shelter of a nearby barn, I saw it clearly, out on the stormy waters. A distress flare. Somewhere in that howling night, a boat was in trouble.
I ran back to the farmhouse as fast as I could, and beat frantically on the door. In the kitchen was the telephone that would put me through to the Guernsey coastguard, who would coordinate a rescue at sea. But why did no-one answer? The storm was frighteningly loud and perhaps my knocking was drowned out. I redoubled my efforts. After what seemed like a long time - though perhaps it was just a few minutes - it was obvious that no-one was going to answer. What to do? Lives were at stake. Should I break a window? What kind of payback would that be for the hospitable farmer? Thoughts whirled through my head and then, as if from somewhere far distant, a new voice made itself heard.
What if the door is not locked?
It wasn't, of course. This is a tiny island, and no-one (in those days at least) would lock their doors at night. I lifted the catch, pushed the door open, went to the phone, and called the Coastguard. The Guernsey lifeboat was launched, and the distressed crew rescued. The next day we read about our adventure in the Guernsey Evening Press. But, still, I had wasted precious minutes because I had assumed that the door would be locked against me.
This story came back to me at the GreenFaith retreat last week when we were asked to share a story of "a spiritual or deeply moving experience in nature". Of course, it carries all sorts of metaphorical freight...in my mind it connects with the "Let us walk through the door" of Updike's Seven Stanzas at Easter. But I had not recognized until the retreat what an apt question it poses for those who think they have discerned, in the stormy night of financial crisis and climate uncertainty and wars and rumors of wars, a distress flare sent up on behalf of the planet.
So we perhaps run to our friend's house and beat upon the door, wondering why he does not listen or she does not hear, not knowing that in her ears the noise of our knocking is just part of the overall, fearful noise of the storm; and perhaps, caught as it seems between imminent peril and inability to find a hearing, we may become cynical or despairing or even violent (trying to break the window). All this may happen; and it has.
But what if the door is not locked? What then?
Image courtesy of Flickr user josimh, licensed under Creative Commons
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