A Peace with the Storm

photo by Mike olbinski

photo by Mike olbinski

After hearing the news, Judah broke down in tears.

I had been outside, talking with my future employer and finally hearing, after eight months of resumes and applications and searching and searching for something that could provide a paycheck for my family, that the struggle was finally over. That come fall, I was going to be a teacher, and I was ecstatic.

"Can I hug you?" I asked the lady who just offered me a job.  She smiled, "Sure," and I gave her one of those side hugs that future employees share with their future employers - you know the kind - then, I headed back inside, eager to share the good news and celebrate with my family. 

When I entered the house, I couldn't suppress the smile and my arms instintively raised in triumph, "I got it!" 

Zion slowly walked over, head slightly turned down, almost as if the weight of the situation was on her shoulders, and buried her face in my legs, "I'm so happy you got a job, Daddy."

"You got it!" Josey said through her beautiful smile, and Eden clapped. After a minute of brief explanation, that some phone cable was cut outside of town and no phones or credit cards were working and that was why she needed to come to the house and share the news, I noticed Judah. He was staring at the floor, absent from our joy and not really listening to what was being said. His eyes were glazed; his chest slightly heaving.

"Judah," I said, "what's wrong?"  

"This means we're not going back to China." Tears overwhelmed him and he buried his head in his arms. The pain finally getting the better of him.

Transition is hard, at any age, and the tears Judah was honest enough to shed, we're all of ours. Not because we weren't excited or relieved or because we didn't have so many things to look forward to and be thankful for, but rather, because this whole process is hard. Really hard. Even though, as adults, we've learned to hold a stiff upper lip and to see the bright side of life, sometimes, in the midst of the beauty and joy of adventure, there are storms. 

And storms can be pretty friggen scary. 

Mike Olbinski is a storm chaser and photographer. He filmed the above from March 28th to June 29th and covered "27 total days of actual chasing and many more for traveling." He drove across 10 states and covered over 28,000 miles. In the end, he "snapped over 90,000 time-lapse frames."

Then, he wrote this blog (I've edited some of it and highlighted my favorite parts. You can read the full, untouched version here.)

On June 12th,  I broke down into tears. Minutes earlier, I had been outside my truck, leaning against it, head buried in my arms, frustration and failure washing over me. I wanted to quit. I got back in the car and as I drove, the pain got the better of me and the tears came.
This past spring was a tough one. Supercell structure and beautiful tornadoes had been very hard to come by. In fact, the tornado in the opening of this film was the only good one I saw this entire year. I had been on the road longer than ever before. Driven more miles. I was away from my family for 12 straight days at one point, and when I got home, I had to tell them I was going back out 24 hours later for June 12th.  It was just too good to pass up. It promised to be a day that I could get everything I had been hoping for this spring and I had no choice. My wife understood, even though I knew she wished I stayed home. And I wished it too.
I knew right where I wanted to be that day. But this year I struggled with confidence in trusting my instincts. Maybe it was because the lack of good storms this spring made me question my skills, or maybe it was something else inside of me. Whatever the case, I let myself get twisted and unsure, and found myself 80 miles away from where I had wanted to be when the tornadoes started to drop and the best structure of the year materialized in the sky. The photos from Twitter and Facebook started to roll in and I knew I had missed everything.
It may not be easy to understand why, but when you work as hard as I did this spring, a moment like that can break you.  I felt like I let my wife down. But mostly I let myself down. I forgot who I was and that’s not me. Or it shouldn’t have been me. I failed myself.  And it seemed like the easy choice to just give up and head for home.
But I didn’t. I’m not sure why, but the pain slowly began to subside. I realized it was only 4pm and the storms were still ongoing. Maybe if I could get in front of them the day could be saved. Ninety minutes later, I got out ahead and saw some of the best structure I’d seen all spring and a lightning show that was so incredible it’s one of the very last clips of this film.
And that’s why this film is called “Pursuit.” Because you can’t give up. Keep chasing, keep pursuing. Whatever it is . . . 

Then, the other day, Josey posted this:

photo by @storyanthology

photo by @storyanthology

It's life on the road right now and home is the passenger seat. Our family thrives in all the simplicity, along with the deep immersion of nature. It's rich family time. Even with spats in the back about room and pillows and sharing, and if Adele is better than Whitney? . . . {Transition} does come with the constant struggle to stay organized in small spaces, hellos and goodbyes too close together, but with the inevitable returning lesson that we can do without most things, just not each other.

I'm not sure what I expected from my family, or of myself, after finally capturing the elusive job, but I certainly didn't expect tears and sadness and fear of the unknown being known. Now though, I think maybe that was the best and most appropriate type of response. Because storms are never simple. 

Judah broke down not because he was anticipating or hoping we would move back to China - he knew we weren't - he broke down because my new job opened new doors, which meant, it closed old ones. His friends and school and room - his knowns - we're truly gone, and he would never know them the same way again.

"There is nothing quite like strong inflow winds, the smell of rain and the crack of thunder" Olbinski writes, and I would have to disagree. Moving across the world, or working through major transitions, is unsettling - scary even - like the harsh crack of expected thunder.

But, transition, like a good storm, can also be soothing and peaceful.

Growing up, my grandparents lived about a block away from Lake Michigan, and some of my favorite memories of that house was when my grandmother would take me to the bench that sat atop the tall dunes and overlooked the lake. The best of those times was when we could watch a storm gather and collect itself across the lake. For hours, we would sit and watch as the temperature began to drop and the tall grass started dancing and bobing to the whims of the wind. Lightening would flash in the distance and a deep thunder would gently role over the waves and sand, then us.

And I felt perfectly safe, even when the clouds reached the shores and soon after started to dot our clothes, because I was siting next to my grandmother, and she was stronger than the storm. 

A few weeks ago, as clouds gathered and lighting flashed in the not-too-far distance, Eden climbed into my lap, under a blanket, and watched the storm. Minutes earlier, in bed, she was terrified because, to a seven-year old little artist, deep clouds and dark strokes of thunder are terrifying. But only when alone. With Dad, it's peaceful.

Because Dad is stronger than the storm. 

Stories have long recognized the power and purpose of storms, often using rain to mark transitions.

Whether in dramatic lightening-filled fashion or in a slow, methodical coming, storms wash away the old and usher in the new; they mark a changing of the seasons, and they bring us closer to those we love, those we trust.

I took Judah out for coffee the other day and asked him to write about us moving to America and Dad getting a job.  

"I miss my friends, and the school," he wrote, "I miss Chinese and our places like our house, our complex, and our city. For a goodbye trip, we went and stayed the night on the Great Wall of China! Then, we came home and reunited with family and friends. Then, when Dad got a job, I started crying because I wanted to go back to China. I learned that it's always scary to move, but you always have a chance for a new life." He showed it to me and I said, "What does 'new life' mean? Give me an example. 

He thought for a minute. "Like when you have some favorite shoes," he wrote, "like a pair of green Pumas and they get too small but they don't sell them anymore. Your going to have to get used to a different pair of shoes! Which means to get new friends, look around and find something unique about them." 


These lessons of life, to look around and find the uniqueness of life, seem to return again and again, reminding us, that amidst the lightening strikes and rolling thunder, there is a peace within the storm. 

Especially when cuddled together, under a blanket. Because there is nothing quite like the smell of rain, the crack of thunder, and the beautiful unknown of new beginnings.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :   On Parenting  :  Thoughts on Transition  :  Olbinski Storm Photography