Shavin: Seeing plenty of signs that the whole world is broken

Dana Shavin
Dana Shavin

Toward the end of his life, my uncle began to issue dire warnings. He was old, had seen a lot, and the wisdom he acquired over the years made him cognizant of many things, one of which was that the world was on its last legs.

"Calamity is coming," he warned my husband and me the last time we saw him, possibly something apocalyptic and we should ready ourselves. He suggested we convert our barn into a bomb shelter and lay in ample supplies of food and medicine. We listened politely, for he was an old man with a tiny red sports car, which lent everything he said a certain gravitas.

But we didn't heed his warnings. And, I'm sorry to say, calamity did come — only for him, not us. Meaning: He died. Thus the genesis of my husband's theory, that as people approach their own demise, they begin to externalize the threat.

I agreed with my husband's theory until last month. That's when, thanks to the wisdom gleaned from my own many long years, I became aware that the entire world was acting erratically; it is now, without a doubt, officially broken. If the burden of proof is on me, then I offer the following as evidence.

About five weeks ago, a storm of highly unusual proportions ripped through Chattanooga. I was at a writers retreat, sleeping alone in a flimsy cabin on Lookout Mountain, when I was awakened at 3 a.m. by the repeated slamming of my screen door against the frame. By morning the wind was in a full-throated howl, huge trees were breaking and crashing down all around me, and my cabin lost power, necessitating a hasty exit from the park. Two nights later, a rare snow and ice event blanketed the mountain where I live, and for three days thwarted all efforts to depart for St. Petersburg, Florida, where a vacation rental awaited my husband and me and our dogs beneath a sultry sun.

We finally clawed our way out of our treacherous road and made it to St. Petersburg. Four days later, we got a call that our garage door had mysteriously opened itself, resulting in a burst pipe that was spewing freezing water into our art studio. Our tankless water heater, which had a front-row seat to the melee, died of fright, which meant when we returned home from Florida after a 10-hour drive with two smelly dogs, we would have no hot water. This so infuriated the kitchen sink it backed up and refused to drain, which maddened the dishwasher, causing it to leak all over the floor.

Somewhere in there I nearly amputated the tip of my index finger while vigorously chopping a head of bok choy, which, on a visit to the enormous Tampa farmers market, we inexplicably bought in quadruplicate despite a variety of other outstanding vegetable options.

There's more. Back home, my husband's computer faked its own death. Ditto the EKG machine in my doctor's office. Ditto someone I'd been communicating merrily with via email about an art exhibit. The post office, that fearless slayer of snow, rain, heat and gloom of night, refused to deliver our two weeks' worth of mail when we returned from Florida. I can only presume it's because it was a sunny day, which isn't specifically covered in their credo.

And then, because apparently brokenness requires further brokenness to quell its own loneliness, my brother called to say my already fragile mother had fallen and broken her hip, after which my heart itself broke.

Maybe my uncle was right and calamity is coming to the world, but his timing was just a little off. Maybe as we age, we really do acquire special powers that allow us to intuit what others can't or won't see. But maybe what I'm seeing as the world's brokenness is really my mother's, and by extension, mine. Here I think of the late Leonard Cohen, the poet/singer/songwriter who wrote, "There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." I think he meant that it's not the brokenness we should focus on, but what is broken open in us as a result. Which is its own kind of calamity, but also, I suppose, its own healing.

Dana Shavin is an award-winning humor columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the author of a memoir, "The Body Tourist," and "Finding the World: Thoughts on Life, Love, Home and Dogs," a collection of her most popular columns spanning 20 years. Find more at; follow her on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes; email her at

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