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What the Gods Have Not Taken from Us

Illustration by Diane and Leo Dillon*
In one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, the author writes: "Weakness and work are two things the gods have not taken from us." I have recalled that sentence in my mind countless times in the 40 years since I read that novel, especially on nights when, already tired beyond description, I faced additional office work or housework. This summer, however, there has been a variation on that sentence coming to my mind: "Weakness, work and weather are three things the gods have not taken from us."

I live in one of this summer's drought-stricken states, Texas. Texans have long suffered hot summers and done so with no small degree of toughness and pride. This summer for me, however, has been like no other in my lifetime. This summer's drought and high temperatures have made the weather a source of death and destruction. Trees that have graced these plains for three generations or more have died. Ranchers had to sell entire herds of cattle, because there was no way to water or feed them. This leaves them with very uncertain futures, because starting another herd from scratch is overwhelming in every way, including economically. The wheat crop is a disaster, gone and done.  Cotton did some better, but not well enough not to punish its producers.

Where once there was water
Tanks (man-made ponds for livestock) are dry to the dirt, cracked and pock-marked. The lakes that supply our water are dipping to new lows. Wildlife are hurting. A few weeks ago, I found a baby Mississippi Kite in my front yard. An extraordinary creature, letting the water from the sprinkler in my front yard cool its grey and white feathers. Still so young that when it opened its large wings, it would fall over. Fortunately, there is a wild bird rescue operation in my community. One of their volunteers came to collect the bird, and I now know it will be fed and cared for until it can soar on its own.  The volunteer told me that last year, they rescued some 34 Kites, but this year by mid-summer they had already rescued well over 100. She believes that the Kite that arrived Lord-knows-how in my yard was pushed from the nest either by a dominant sibling or by parents who simply could no longer feed it.

The young Kite
The summer has taught me that we, too, are vulnerable, perhaps even as vulnerable as the Kite who looked steadily at me with its deep, black eyes as I sat on the ground next to it a while. And, after hearing news reports about Glacier Park in Colombia losing glacier territory, and myriad other reports about climate change, I want to say this: Let's stop arguing over what's happening and just work to fix it. Let's act as though climate change were real and fast upon us, and then everyone wins. I'd love to work on the problem and then find out we don't have one....much more so than not act now and find out later that the problem is insolvable.

But back to C.S. Lewis's novel and the gods that appear in it. Just when I had reached a level of distress over our weather, four days after I drove down a highway where a parched brown forest now borders the shoulders of the road, a cool wind arrived. The temperature dropped from 108 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit. And then: and then the unthinkable. It rained. The first drop of rain in three months.  I went outside and stood in it, as I had promised myself I would do if the rain would just visit us once again. This was no rain I wanted to be protected from. This was God-given rain I wanted to embrace.  A reminder that, indeed, the gods have not taken weather from us, that just as the weather the gods give us can threaten and destroy, it can also soothe and restore.

*The illustration by Diane and Leo Dillon was used for the cover of the Time Life edition of Till We Have Faces. The caption links to an article about these award-winning illustrators.


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