The Vagaries of Life

May 5, 2017

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. As I’ve been searching for a subject on which to hold forth this month, I keep coming back to the word Vagary. It’s from the Latin vagari "to wander, to roam, to be unsettled, or be spread abroad.” Its most modern usage is, of course, the word vagrant. it’s easy to see how that fits with the original definition of the noun vagāri, to be a wanderer.

But vagary, today, is seen and used a little differently. One dictionary reference I found defines it as “an unexpected and inexplicable change in a situation or in someone's behavior.”Other words associated with it include change, fluctuation, variation, quirk, peculiarity, oddity … caprice, foible, and so on. All good, descriptive words.

Interestingly, though, in modern usage, it is most often used in its plural form, as in “The vagaries of life, of fortune, of…weather, for instance. Like what we’re experiencing now across the Ozarks. Today, the waters that have definitely been spread abroad are beginning to recede after the one-two-three punch of capricious, unexpected and inexplicably torrential rainfall that fell across the Ozarks on Wednesday week, then Saturday, then again beginning Tuesday evening. At my house that added up to about 17 inches over all, as of yesterday when it finally wound down around 4 p.m.. Add to that the odd and fluctuating cold and wild winds that accompanied this system, and you’ve already gathered a fair collection of vagaries. This is a classic definition, for instance, of unsettled weather. So at this point, I could wax eloquent on a number of topics, and I suppose anything from climate science to end times would be on the list of possibilities.

But that’s not the way I want to go today. I want to talk instead about the evidence I’ve seen that hard times can call out what’s best in us, from the emergency crews to the first responders to the utility workers to our friends, neighbors and people in other place that we will never meet who send help, encouragement and their heartfelt prayers. Certainly some get paid to do these jobs, but never enough. When I was a small child, my father was a lineman whose career path changed abruptly while out in a thunderstorm repairing a downed line. He and a friend were on adjoining poles rewiring connections when, in the middle of a conversation, his friend was struck by lightning and killed. So I have never been able to ignore the peril that is part of those jobs, nor to fail to honor these people’s courage, making our lives better by doing the dangerous things so we don’t have to.

This past weekend I and many others got another up close look at that kind of courage and peril when three friends had to take refuge on the roof of their flooding house. The road between them and safety suddenly became impassible in rain that was falling at a rate of more than an inch an hour. They weren’t being careless. But they were caught nonetheless. And it got worse. They were able to contact a daughter by cell phone who called emergency services. But the rain was falling so hard and so fast that rescue helicopters couldn’t fly in it, and the boats that would have come to their aid could not fight the raging current. For nine hours they clung to that rooftop in torrential rain, deafening thunder and deadly lightning that only revealed the homes of their neighbors breaking apart and washing away, wondering how long their own home would hold.

Well, the happy ending was that the rain slowed down, the boat arrived and they were helped to safety. Still, their house is a long way from being a home again. Similar stories are less dramatic but just as life altering all across the area. But now, as emergency workers are beginning to get some much needed rest, friends, neighbors and strangers near and far are gathering to empty out flooded homes, bring food and other necessities, and comfort those afflicted by this widespread chaos and loss. Community services from churches to The American Red Cross have provided and are still providing shelter and sustenance. Friends and strangers in far places are sending along with prayers, care packages, offers to temporarily house people and pets, some they know and some they don’t, and from everywhere cash donations, large and small. Here is this little backwoods community where there are family feuds, divisions of opinion, diverse lifestyles and every kind of conflict, but when it comes to hard times, we put differences aside and gather as one family, reaching out with strong arms and generous hearts to take up the work of putting the ornery, cantankerous, challenging Ozarks back together again.

This is Marideth Sisco, on this and every day as we face the vagaries of weather and life, full today to the brim with love and gratitude for the privilege of living among the tough, tenacious and immensely kind hearted people of These Ozark Hills.