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Monday, June 27, 2011

Floods and Arks

Last December I had a series of dreams involving large amounts of water and violence. The general theme of the water dreams was always that of being swept away in a storm, losing control of whatever situation I was in but always in the most literal way: a house I was in was lifted from its moorings and carried away on a deluge, or in another I was swept to safety from my flooded house on a raft or door down a street that had turned into a river, with people waiting to rescue me and my family at the end. There was another with gunfire from which I was able to hide.

Never was I alarmed by these tempests.  In fact the prevailing emotion I had was of control and a sense of challenge on how to deal with the latest calamity. And never was I trying to resist the tide either; I was controlling what I could, protecting myself and my family successfully in an otherwise uncontrollable scenario.

On analyzing these vivid, unforgettable dreams I was puzzled at first, thinking they were just an indication of an emotional flood I needed to experience.  Then a terrible tragedy occurred where a dear friend was killed in circumstances that mirrored the events in the trilogy of dreams, at least symbolically. At first I thought the dreams had been prophetic, preparing me somewhat for what did happen a few days later. And these dreams did comfort me, seeming to point out the inevitability of the tragedy that befell my friend. You might think I was "dreaming" about the meaning of these visions and well I might have been. I don't think it matters whether or not they were prophetic; their purpose was perhaps only to give me some comfort at a difficult time.

But lately I have been thinking about them again as we faced a literal flood of our own this weekend, indeed as many people the world over have been experiencing. We had the rainstorm of the century over a twenty-four hour period that left many houses if not completely destroyed, as in one case I heard about, then at least severely damaged.  Very few people in the swath of this storm were left untouched.  At the very least, most of us dealt with badly flooded basements. Many were left feeling unhinged and overwhelmed by the deluge, struggling with the physical demands of cleaning up a huge, soaking mess in the aftermath.  Roads were swept away in the torrents that roared down streets and driveways, including our own, though ours mercifully remained intact. At one point I looked out and our entire acreage was nearly underwater. A lake had formed where there had been lawns, roads and ditches.  My neighbour wryly noted that if she had been quick about it, she could have stuck up a "For Sale" sign, claiming waterfront property. I noted that if the rains had continued she'd have had a houseboat for sale instead.

The flood, of course, was nothing on the scale of those suffered by others this year, such as in North Dakota or along the Richelieu River in Quebec to name just a couple.  But it took us all by surprise since the forecasts I heard were calling for "thunder showers" and "drizzle", not the 120-160 mm of water that fell over a couple of hours in parts of the region.  More along the lines of "monsoon" I would think.

We were mercifully lightly touched compared to many, but there were some anxious moments as the water poured into my house through a basement doorway the first night, and on the second day, the power failed for two and a half hours, rendering the sump pump in our basement useless.  With the water table so high, it was only a matter of minutes before the water rose up and spilled onto the basement floor.  My son (who had rushed home early from work) and I made a futile attempt to bail out the sump pit, hauling buckets of water well away from the house, but the effort was like a scene from the "Sorcerer's Apprentice". The water rose up faster than we could manage.  Finally I declared it was useless to continue and sent my son out to find a generator at a hardware store, thinking that, otherwise, the entire basement might fill with water before the power came back on. William drove into the city during another heavy bout of rain, tackled dreadful traffic, all the while wondering if the roads might be washed out upon his return, but he did successfully snag a generator for us.  As it happened, the power came on before he returned and the sump pump resumed the heavy task of pumping out what was now a couple of inches of water covering the entire basement floor, far less than I had prepared myself for. It took us hours to push the water toward the hole, vacuum up the residue, then set about drying the floors with an assortment of old sheets, towels and blankets I had kept for just such occasions (we've had various water mishaps in the past involving broken sump pumps and a malfunctioning washing machine).  In total, with the two days of flooding and subsequent clean-up, we put in over three days of hard work. But, having had a few smaller water calamities in the basement before, I had flood-proofed it as well as I could so that nothing of value lay close to the floor. Since our basement is unfinished, the clean-up was fairly quick compared to neighbours whose carpeting and belongings are still being dragged out of their homes and insurance claims are being made.

Apart from a few moments of despair, I remained calm, just as I did in my dreams about floods, not that the danger in real life came anywhere close to the frightening scenes of my subconscious.  It helped that our very competent son was on hand for most of the mess and without whom I would have had a far more difficult time of it. Not the least of my worries was Michael who, in the past, has had emotional washouts over similar calamities. I needed to keep him calm and reassured that all was under control. Perhaps it is a sign of how advanced his cognitive degeneration is that he was singularly unperturbed and seemed to approach it like a young boy splashing in the water. At one point I found him outside digging trenches in the mud and I decided that since he was neither doing himself nor our situation any harm, he could carry on.  At other times, he quietly sat watching television (when we had power), as always. The only alarming thing for me was hearing his falls from my position in the basement beneath him.  I hadn't realized how thunderous it is when he tumbles, and each time I held my breath to hear him get up safely again.

What struck me about the entire calamity was how good I felt when the sun finally emerged and I could declare there was nothing further to be done beyond keeping the dehumidifiers going non-stop to dry things out.  In the process of the clean-up, every nook and cranny of the basement was exposed and dried out, and sometimes a problem was revealed that needed fixing, such as my discovery that the dryer hose was broken. All kinds of soul-cleansing metaphors and images of bringing light to dark places sprang to mind during my rigorous clean-out.  The increased isolation I felt for those few days of all-consuming work evoked thoughts of the Biblical family isolated on an Ark and the joy one must feel at the end of such an ordeal, upon hitting solid ground.  It felt like we had emerged from some spiritual darkness swept away by the drying sun. If nothing else, I at least now have a cleaner basement floor and maybe even a slightly stronger spirit.

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