Tony Woodlief | Author

The Storm

The two younger boys crept into our bed in the black morning, driven by a snarling storm. They curled into me, shivering, as if I am a safe harbor. There is no keeping out the storm; this is what I thought. The cool peaceful evenings line themselves up between the vibrant days, and we forget the storm until it is upon us, and then we remember that there is no hiding from it, because it knows where every living one of us dwells. These little ones have not been so long removed from the raw stuff of nature to forget the primeval violence of the world. We chuckle at how they cower, but they are right to fear the storm. We are the foolish ones, to think our roofs and walls protect us.

They shivered into sleep beside me, thinking I have some magic, and me full of wakeful fear, knowing too, before a shave and a newspaper help me forget, that only magic will keep the storm at bay once it comes in all its fury. And we have no more magic, none of us, so we chuckle when these children cringe at the thunder, and tell ourselves that we have conquered the storm.

We lay in that bed, and I listened to their breathing, their peaceful breathing, and counted the seconds between the flashes and booms, as if math will make the storm disappear. The storm drifted away, but it is always just on the horizon, perhaps doing its own counting. Maybe it has some final number in mind, and we, meanwhile, think that this number is infinity, when it surely is something much smaller, much closer, with only our children sensing how close it really is.

No man can hold back the storm, little ones, not even your father, shivering as he is beside you. You’ll read this before you truly know, because you can only know it when your own children lay shivering beside you, thinking you possess magic that has left the world. Then you will know it, deep in the bones that forgot, until that moment, the primordial fear, and you find yourself whispering a prayer only half-believed. You whisper that prayer, and in whispering it you know that you have no magic in you to protect them. This is why we pray so seldom, and often weep when we pray, because we’ve lost hope before we’ve begun.

So you whisper that prayer, little-ones-now-fathers, and the growling storm thunders louder, and your soul cringes, attuned as it is to the destruction of the flesh, forgetting its own eternal nature. The heart and the flesh cry out because their days are ending, but this soul, this cringing, faithless soul, is made of some resilient matter that even the hungry storm cannot devour.

There is no stopping the storm when it is finally unleashed; this is the reply to the prayer you will find yourself whispering one black morning, as your trusting children sleep beside you, believing there is magic beneath your skin. But there are only the strange equations — loss equals gain, death equals life — and they are founded in a math deeper than that with which you counted back the flashes and booms.

This is the conversation you will have with God, as your own children curl into you, not knowing that once you curled into me, and that in all the years between, you have not found the magic to hold back the storm when it comes. This is what comes to you for your whispered prayer, this quiet promise that the storm cannot destroy all. It is not the answer you will hope for when you whisper your prayer, but it is more than enough.

So sleep beside me now, little boys, and I will fight back the storm until my flesh fails me, as all flesh does. It is a blessing that all flesh fails, because otherwise our souls might never struggle free. Knowing this I protect you nonetheless, because that is how fathers are made. That is why we die one day, so the world can go to work on you in its turn, that you might learn the painful lesson, which is simply that all flesh fails, and that this is good, because there is something underneath the Lord has made. You cannot see it, but I think I catch a glimpse as I watch you sleep, and I think it must be inside me too.

One dark morning, when you hold your own children, and are filled with fierce love for them, know that I have loved you the same way, and that this is why God calls us his children, that no matter how many heresies spill forth from preachers and priests, we might remember he loves us with more ferocity than any storm, even the storm that bides its time.

On Key

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