Ten Minutes from Normal

  • Monday, March 3, 2014

Some years ago I read a book by Karen Hughes entitled Ten Minutes from Normal.  Mrs. Hughes was a ordinary wife and mother from Texas who became Counselor to the President during George W. Bush's first term in office.  Mrs. Hughes had an exciting life in Washington D.C., yet gave it up to move back to Texas in order to put her family first and to have a normal life.  It was a good book and during the recent ice storm I kept thinking, everyone I know is living at least ten minutes from normal.

The morning before the storm everything was predictable: long hot showers, a good cup of coffee, news on the TV, and a warm house.  Fast forward 24 hours and nothing is the same.  Houses are cold, no coffee, no showers, and the TV is silent.  Its times like these when individuals realize how much the simple things in life are taken for granted.  In fact, we had this conversation in Sunday school about two weeks before the storm and my class agreed that all too often folks do not appreciate how good their lives are until something drastically happens.  Perhaps there is an ice storm, a death, a job loss, or a ruptured pipe that floods a house.  At some point or some age, we understand how fragile life is and that most of us live ten minutes from normal.

Karen Hughes devotes many pages in her book to September 11, 200l and tells how she was at home the morning of the attack and was as confused and horrified as anyone. However, once the second plane hit the World Trade Center and she heard an aviation expert say that our lives would never be the same, Hughes understood the gravity of the situation. As Hughes headed toward the White House she reported the most bizarre site was men dressed in black, brandishing machine guns on the streets of Washington.  She said it felt like a scene from some foreign capital after a coup: to see downtown Washington, the home of freedom and democracy, suddenly turned into an armed camp with the only sign of life was men with guns. It was terrifying. Through the next weeks and months, Hughes worked tirelessly with the administration as the country tried to recover and find ways to accept the new normal way of living.

Back to the ice storm.  Salters had as much damage from the ice as anyplace I have seen.  Wednesday afternoon while the storm was still brewing, Bunny and I tried to make our way across town to my mom's house and it took 20 minutes to find a street that we could maneuver.  Every street had either large limbs or broken trees blocking the way. Electric lines were down that had to be avoided and limbs were dropping everywhere. Bunny finally had to move several limbs so we could reach our destination. In addition to the blocked streets, our yard just like everyone's, was a disaster.  We had a tree on the house, my car was surrounded by debris and could not be moved from the garage, and broken limbs were everywhere.  It was just a mess. For the next six days Salters had no power except the power of the people.  Everyone checked on neighbors, family, and friends and helped as they could.  The sound of chain saws, dark cold houses, and sharing meals became the new normal.

The week following 9-11 Karen Hughes was planning the prayer service at the National Cathedral.  As she went over the program with the President and the First Lady they all agreed on the hymn; O God Our Help in Ages Past since it described God as a shelter from the stormy blast. The Battle Hymn of the Republic was also chosen as it did not reflect that Americans were victims, but rather defiant towards those who attacked.  Hughes reflected that at the end of the service, as 5 U.S. Presidents and the nation's other leaders sang: "His truth is marching on"; the mood in the Cathedral shifted from sadness to readiness as the hymn steeled the country for the difficult job and days ahead.

Sunday after the ice storm, our church planned an informal service since the power had not been restored. It was a nice service and one thing I remember clearly is that our Pastor said: “Sometimes God gives us the opportunity to have good conversations with our family over a candle lit table.”  The storm was a time for families to focus on one another instead of the busyness of the world and perhaps it was a good time to appreciate the useful “stuff” that makes our lives easier.  Even though we were not in a grand cathedral, the mood in our church was not anger at the power companies; instead it was a mood of readiness for the task of cleaning up the debris and moving on with life. It was also a mood of thankfulness that we had fared well and for those working hard to restore stability. At any given time, we all live ten minutes from normal.  The question becomes how do we handle the new normal?

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