We played in the rain while children drowned. My mom took a picture.
We’d asked our mom if we could go play in the rain, and she consented, as long as we wore bathing suits. Too young to care what the neighbors thought, my sisters and I donned our bathing suits as quickly as we could. Mine was littered with yellow flowers, as bright as the sun that wasn’t shining. Hannah’s was blue with palm trees blowing gently in an island wind. Rebekah’s—a hand-me-down—didn’t fit her well, but that didn’t stop the five-year-old’s smile.
Now, we’re a little further down the road to being grown, and I’ll say something to Hannah that will cause her to remind me, in the gentle way only a sister can, that the whole world isn’t playing my game of pretend. But then, in 2005, it was. As the oldest, my little sisters were the main characters in my worlds of pretend. On that particular day in the rain, we were news anchors. Hannah and I would alternate being the meteorologist, a word I’d just learned and pronounced incorrectly. Rebekah, still too young to really understand the inner workings of her big sister’s imagination, was the child we interviewed.
When Hannah was ready to play in the real world again, we bickered. We compromised by playing a game our daddy had taught us: “Shortie.” We each chose a piece of grass, pulled it from its lovely home, and ran with it as it raced down the gutter stream. The first piece of grass to the drain was the champion. Whitman believed “a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” If this is true, then we cheered as a star’s labor floated to its sewer death.
In the photograph my mom came out in the rain to take, the world around the three girls is still green, the heavy green of late August that soon gives way to autumn. My mom captured the innocence of the calm before a storm, the heavy purity of summer before the fall. The sisters smiling in the photograph had no idea that a hurricane devastated land and life only 494 miles away. My mom unknowingly memorialized the day I realized the very things I adored in the world were also devastating.
Later that day, I was helping Polly Pockets dance in their Lego castle, immersed in another game of pretend, when I absentmindedly looked up. My mom had just turned on the news, and before my naïve, hurricane-colored eyes, there was a real meteorologist. The news was rarely on in our home. There was too much light for mundane darkness. I remember it being the channel of choice on September 11, 2001, on New Year’s Eve, after the earthquake in Haiti, when my grandparents came to visit, and on this afternoon after we’d been playing in the rain—the day Hurricane Katrina hit. I watched as desks floated by in floods. Just like our little pieces of grass, they were swept away.
Was it wrong to play?
Years later, another September 11 has come. Hannah and I figured out how to turn the news on in our city apartment to track Hurricane Irma. The meteorologists inform us that the hurricane, or its remnant, is headed our way. I was among those shopping for supplies in Target when the schools decided to close yesterday. There were cheers heard across the store. Cheers because a deadly hurricane is coming. I cheered along, and I found stuff to make hurricane cookies. But I also felt guilty.
Guilt is a lot like Irma. Water has been pushed and pulled away from the shorelines of the Bahamas and Tampa. To feed and fuel the eye, the storm has shifted the shape of the ocean. The water will return to the bays as the storm moves on, as it dies out. But to die, the hurricane will encounter land. To be destroyed, it hurls destruction.
When my eye is fueled by the lens of guilt, the shorelines of my heart shift in dangerous directions. I feel guilty that I have this desire to be loved when girls are being sold and traded. Guilty because I throw away food while fathers die trying to feed their kids, guilty because I complain. I somehow feel guilty even for playing in the rain while mothers wept over the loss of their children who would play no more. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. As I battle to destroy the guilt within, it batters my heart and does not leave those close to me unaffected.
But praise be to God, I am not the one who must destroy this guilt on my own. I’ve seen warnings about the dangers of shooting bullets into hurricanes, and I’ve chuckled at the thought that there are people out there who think that they can stop the strongest storm the Atlantic Ocean has ever seen with their tiny little guns. The warnings state the bullets will fly back and damage more than a hurricane alone would hurt.
My burden of guilt is shouldered by the Guiltless One who died to set me free. “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.” I’ll bake those hurricane cookies. I’ll pray deeply for those who are in danger. I’ll use the break to get caught up on work, but I won’t feel guilty when I pause to play. I’ll hurt for those who are loosing their homes, but I won’t feel guilty if I get to keep my own. And again and again, I’ll beg Love to replace guilt. I’m confident in this plea because the years have taught me that Love is what enables me to splash in the puddles of joy along the way.