Our weekend in Dubuque ended with quite a bang, thanks to one of the worst downpours that Kathy and I have ever experienced. It was right around 1:00 and we were at the local Staples store, making copies of the bulletin for the sixth and final worship service of the retreat. . . plus copies of a hymn I had just finished composing earlier that morning. As we drove up into the Staples parking lot, we noticed some fearsome clouds on the horizon and could just smell the thunderstorm bearing down on us, so we got ourselves out of the car and into the store as quickly as possible. Once we were inside, we got to work on this project- Kathy taking care of the bulletin itself while I finished writing out the hymn. . . when Kathy suddenly noticed several of the Staples clerks standing at the front door, looking up at the sky. She told me to come take a look, and I could scarcely believe how black the sky had become in just those few minutes. . . and just then the storm sirens began blowing.
So did I run for cover? No, I ran for the car to grab my camera from the front seat. On the long list of idiotic things which I have done in my life, this is towards the very top. But I got back to the store with maybe ten seconds to spare before the skies opened up and the downpour began. And honestly, this is almost certainly the worst downpour Kathy and I have ever witnessed. The rain was pouring out of the sky, and the wind was such that the rain was a blinding, stinging sheet. In fact, it was raining and blowing so hard that it was actually activating the sliding door at the front of the store. . . and you can’t believe how much water that storm was dumping into the entry way of the store. (Two employees were working with big mops to try and push the water back out into the parking lot, with very limited success.) Even more amazing, the rain was so heavy that it was actually coming in through the outer edges of the front windows – to the point where they actually unplugged all of the self-serve xerox machines because there was water on the floor and they were afraid that someone might electrocute themselves. And all the while, the storm sirens continued to blow- and there we stood right at the front of the store, sitting ducks if something really bad happened.
(It’s crazy what you think about in a situation like that. One of the thoughts that flitted through my mind was that if a tornado came along and we were killed, no one would get a chance to sing the hymn I had just composed that morning. . . titled, ironically enough, “Bright New Day.” The one and only copy of the hymn was right there at the Staples, waiting to be copied. . . Call me crazy but that’s one of the things I was thinking about.)
(Another thought – again jumping to the conclusion that we were about to be struck by a tornado- was that it was going to be so odd to experience something like that with a bunch of strangers in a Staples store in Dubuque. What would that have felt like? Thankfully, we didn’t have to learn the answer to that question.)
(A final thought- I wondered how they were doing across town at the Shalom Retreat Center, site of the retreat. The place is surrounded by tall trees, and the group was meeting in a room with only stain glass windows, so they would have not been able to see much if anything of the storm. . . which might have been even scarier. But they did hear the storm sirens and eventually they were directed down into the basement, where they actually continued on with whatever session they had begun, even with the pouring rain and howling wind.)
And then, a few long minutes later, the downpour finally subsided – the sky brightened – I copied my hymn – and we were on our way, newly reminded of how formidable Mother Nature can be when she unleashes her full fury.
pictured above: this picture really doesn’t do justice to this storm. Just a few moments before this, it was almost impossible to see this automobile through the rain – and anything farther out in the parking lot and across the street was completely invisible. And notice the door, which was open almost continuously during the height of the storm.