The Calm After the Storm

When I woke up Thursday morning, the first thing I did was listen. I heard the hum of my air conditioner. I didn’t hear howling wind or pounding rain. And I felt a rush of relief.

After nearly a week of anxiety and an overdose of the Weather Channel, Hurricane Dorian passed by my home in Savannah, Georgia far enough offshore to spare us from the worst of its fury. No damage to our house or our trees. Incredibly, we still had electricity. Normally a storm like that leaves us powerless for days, which is always a miserable experience for me. I freely admit I am utterly dependent on modern luxuries. This is one reason I never go camping. 

Hurricane stories

As a native of New Orleans, hurricanes have always been a frightening part of my life. A violent Gulf storm is one of my earliest memories. Hurricane Betsy, a wild and devastating Category 4, struck my hometown when I was three years old. In hazy flashes of recall, I see candlelit nights, dinner out of cans and our house filled with relatives whose home was flooded beyond belief. 

Then there was Hurricane Camille in 1969. I was in the second grade. Tape on the windows and more candles. A direct hit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Along the beach in Biloxi, a long line of driveways leading to empty spaces where beautiful homes used to be.

By the time the infamous Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed my city in 2005, I had been living in Savannah for a long time. I sat on my living room sofa for days on end, grieving over the magnitude of the devastation. Unbelievable. I still don’t have words for the tragedy of it all. It’s how I feel now as I look through my tears at the heartbreaking images from the Bahamas.

Hurricane Katrina flooded my parents’ house, damaging just about everything they had. At a time in their lives when they should have been planning a post-retirement getaway, they spent eight months renovating their home while living in a FEMA trailer. Both say they couldn’t go through that anguish again. But they stayed. A number of my friends and relatives left the area for good, rebuilding their lives in Baton Rouge, Mississippi and Texas. 

Like so many other aspects of life, Mother Nature reminds us that no matter how carefully we plan, ultimately, we’re not in control. We can buy canned goods and generators, or we can head for higher ground, but we can’t make a storm change direction any more than we can make time stand still, no matter who we are. All we can do, as I heard so many times this week, is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

What matters most

Experiences like this sharpen our focus to the things that matter most. As I was contemplating an evacuation that we eventually decided against, I moved around my house, trying to figure out what we could take with us. What could I absolutely not live without if my home were destroyed? 

Obviously, these sweeties must come with us:

No room in the car for my book collection, my favorite boots or my prized red jewelry armoire, the one with the painted birds on it. I am surrounded by stuff – useful stuff, beloved stuff, stuff I don’t remember purchasing. It all feels so important when we buy it. And it all gets left behind in a disaster.

In the news footage of these events, what matters most is plain to see. It’s what we all have in common when the chips are down. A woman trudges through chest-high water carrying her two dogs under her arms. Rescue workers gather desperate survivors into their strong embrace. Color, class and religion don’t matter. Only life matters. And courage is everywhere. 

My boxes of old photographs wouldn’t fit in the car either; I stored them carefully in a large plastic bin placed high on a shelf in the closet. If I lost them, these pieces of paper that would mean nothing to anyone else could never be replaced. (Next project: scan everything.)

I’m really tired today. So many emotions! The days of indecision and anxiety – should we stay or should we evacuate? The aching sadness for the people of the Bahamas. The enormous relief that it’s over now, at least for us. And the gratitude. I am so thankful. 

To all the people who’ve been affected by Hurricane Dorian, my heart goes out to you. I can’t imagine how hard this is and I’m praying for you. And if you’re safe tonight in your comfortable home like I am, surrounded by people you love, hug them close and say thank you.