It was already dark by the time I pulled into the driveway of my parents house not far outside of Birmingham. I really didn’t want to be there. My gig had been a long one and I was anxious to outrace the bad weather brewing in the Gulf. We had only been in the new house in Tennessee a couple of weeks, and there was still much to do. But my conscience was screaming at me and some tasks brook no delay.
The house was dark…had been since dusk, I’m sure. Since Mom had fallen sick she and Dad usually retired around nightfall. I quietly opened the unlocked door and slipped inside the house where I grew up. The flickering glow and too loud sound of Dad’s television told me someone was still awake. I padded down the hallway on once-shag carpet and softly knocked on the doorframe to their room.
It had been about a month since I last saw them. Dad pretended not to be asleep and we made small talk about the kids and the move and my recent trip to Japan. Was that a look of judgement or my own guilt about not coming by sooner? Hard to tell by TV light. Guilt or no, I was there and made the most of the moment.
Mom was laying in her at-home hospital bed so quietly that I thought she was sleeping until I saw the gleam of watery eyes following my movements. While she couldn’t speak much these days, there was still a mind and soul clinging to her ailing body.
She looked weaker than I remembered, and I was shocked by her frailty. A brief spark of anger flared up inside me. Being the youngest of seven kids made me ‘the baby’ and therefore required me to be shielded from the harsh realities of life and death. Forget the fact that I was in my forties and had five kids of my own…
Dad mumbled something about doctors and meds and such. I pressed him probably harder than I needed to get the truth.
My Mom was dying.
Putting on a brave face, it was my turn to mumble what rote words of encouragement I could remember. I turned back to Mom and reached down to give her a fragile hug. I told her about my recent adventures and how we all missed seeing her. The wind picked up outside, reminding me of the coming storm. I made my excuses about wind and weather and how I needed to get going. Mom placed her hand on my mine and croaked out the words “love you…”
Just as quietly as before, I left the house where I grew up.
Hope was failing as fast as the weather as I pushed toward my new home, the old one now out of sight in the rear view mirror. It didn’t take long for the rain and winds to intensify. I don’t remember much of that late night drive…my thoughts so consumed me. I remember crossing the Tennessee River and being blown all over the road by tornado force gusts. I made it home well past midnight, weary in body and spirit.
I awoke the next morning to the news of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. A call to Dad brought a touch of relief to know that they had weathered the storms. Images on the news showed the plight of those made homeless in mere moments. Shots of the grieving were everywhere…hope was nowhere to be found.
I did what I always seem to do. A lyric and a melody had been hovering in the background, and I wrote a song to deal with what I saw in the world, and what I pushed to the background of my heart.
It was a song about Hope.
Say a prayer for the children
Don’t forget the lost and unseen
Offer a word for the hurting
Say a prayer for those in need
Lend a shoulder to the grieving
Give your strength to the weak
Offer a hand to the helpless
Faith and work is what we need
We need Hope for the hopeless
Help for the homeless
In the night when they’ve lost their way
The winds may blow and the rivers roll
But Love still rules the waves
And Hope still lives today
“Hope” by George Vinson
It would be around six months later that Mom fought her final battle, crossing the river to come face to face with the Author of Hope.
It was the wind blowing my car around on the Tennessee River Bridge this past early Sunday morning that prompted these memories to come flooding back. Much water has passed under that bridge since that late August evening in 2005.
The winds still blow and the river is raging and rolling even now.