Saturday, July 2, 2011 — a relatively normal day turned scary. I’m writing now, grateful for a happy ending.
It was approaching 9:00 pm on a trip home from Toronto. I was with my sister and her four kids and we were taking a series of backroads to get back into Guelph. It was just getting dusky outside when I received a call from our folks on my cell phone. Having left Toronto a little earlier than we had, they just arrived at home — but to a big change in the weather with pitch black skies and strong winds. This would be our warning call, which was used to help kick our brains into gear for what we were about to experience.
Two kids were asleep. The other two quietly occupying themselves. (I must comment here that the trip *to* Toronto was absolutely *nothing* like that description of the trip home.) The skies were not foreboding at all but we were keeping our eyes peeled for any changes, hopeful that there wouldn’t be much to see.
Then we saw something. The change in the sky was so pronounced that we would have noticed something was wrong even without the advanced warning we had been given. The clouds were unnerving but we pressed on. The rain started to fall and the thunder and lightning were very present but, again, we pressed on. The wind was freaky, growing in strength at a disturbingly rapid rate. It seemed utterly confused about the direction it should be blowing, which was also unnerving. Then the rain began to fall with such volume and force that we could hardly see at all. But we pressed on. Then all at once we could see *something*. But that *something* was a large tree down in the middle of an intersection. And power lines were down.
It was ridiculously frightening and, with little option but to turn around, my sister carefully manoeuvred the mini-van and headed back in the opposite direction. At this point we had freaked out kids, all of whom were awake, and freaked out adults who were trying to figure out what to do. We were looking for somewhere to stop and be safe. Having lost our bearings on the usually familiar road, we were wondering where exactly we were. And we were trying to decide what poor unsuspecting people’s lives we should barge into for shelter.
Then, suddenly, we knew exactly where along the road we were. We found the Eden House retirement and nursing home and pulled into the lot. I ran in (and got quite soaked in that 3 seconds I was outside) and spoke with somebody about the situation and asked about cover for the six of us. I ran back out, motioning to my sister that it was OK to come in. Then the kids were released, with the oldest three moving the fastest I’d ever seen them move and entered safely into the home. I went in for the youngest and carried her out through the rain, then sent her in with the others. I grabbed something from the van and told my sister “this sounds a lot like a train… get in here quick”. Soon we were all safely inside Eden House.
The place had lost power — likely related to the tree we found and the power lines that were snapped on the ground. They were running on the power of a generator and were busy trying to deal with the challenges that the storm was causing for them. At the same time, they could appreciate how crazy things had turned out there and were quite kind to accept the intrusion.
Not too long after being there, we were taken to a lounge/dining hall area. This is where the nurse in charge told her staff that they had a family stranded here due to the storm and they’ve got scared children and they need snacks and juice. The team was deployed and moments later they all returned with a cart filled with cookies and drinks and pudding. And they brought us blankets. (Once I realized that I was drenched and shivering, I was particularly fond of the blankets being made available.)
We just did our best to stay out of their way. They had plenty to do without us being there. There were false readings from the system due to being on generator power. They were trying to arrange to get the power back. And of course they were also doing all their regular things, like helping residents.
I was glad to be there because I knew we were safe and I knew that it was the best kind of place to be if anything got worse outside. It was a place with procedures already set and people that knew what to do, who also had connections with emergency services and such…. this was a nice place to be!
We were there for a little while – staying safely off the road in the very brunt of the storm, getting the kids settled down from the scariest part of the journey, and us taking a break and trying to plan our next leg of the journey. Being so close to home and yet stranded was a little disappointing but we knew that once we could get back out there, we didn’t have long to drive. Once things settled down enough outside, we said our goodbyes and piled back into the van. Still raining – still thunder & lightning. But hardly any wind and and only raining very lightly in contrast to the hour earlier.
We needed to take an alternate route home, as the road we were trying to take had been closed by the OPP. There was a lot of debris on the alternative path — including a second tree nearly down, which we managed to get past. The kids were still pretty shaken. My sister and I just wanted to get off the roads before anything else could happen!
Now we’re all safely home. I pause to consider, with awe, the power of nature. Also, I can’t get that part of Matthew 25 out of my head: “I was a stranger and you took me in…” from verse 35. Tonight, we were greatly blessed by complete strangers, crashing their home which already had extra and unexpected complexity, and had an immense demonstration of hospitality and kindness lavished upon us, the travelling strangers in need of safety and shelter. Greatly blessed, indeed.
Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
See the aftermath: Returning to the scene…