Hurricane Lessons

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I live in Charleston, SC and we have been so lucky that Hurricane Florence took a detour on her way down the coast. We watch with grief and empathy as our neighbors to the north deal with cresting waters days after the hurricane.

This isn’t my first hurricane. I grew up in New Orleans. I lived through Betsy and Camille and, I confess, I was too young to understand what all the fuss was about until we drove back home and my favorite toys – the ones I’d left on the floor because I was kind of a sloppy kid – were floating in water. And the house at the end of our street was sheared in half by a tornado.

Later, I watched from afar as Katrina destroyed a lot of what was familiar about New Orleans.

So, I take hurricanes seriously and I have learned a lot of things about getting ready for hurricanes. Boarding up the windows. Buying lots of water and toilet paper and canned food. Making lots of pre-emptive hotel reservations out of the storm path because you’re never quite sure where that path will be. Have your important papers ready to go.

Those are some of the big lessons.

And the biggest lesson of all is what you take with you when you have to decide what’s important enough to save.

Lots has been written about that, and I’m not going to get into anything that profound.

I’m here to talk about the little lessons they don’t teach you. The ones you won’t hear from The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore.

Lesson One: You’re probably going to gain weight. Cat Five isn’t the hurricane level, it’s the number of pounds you can expect. If you evacuate, you’re eating bad food. And if you stay, there’s a moral obligation to empty your freezer in case the power goes out. Who knew your freezer had so much ice cream and pastry?

Lesson Two: Whatever chronic conditions you have will flare up during a hurricane. Bad back? Hefting all those hurricane supplies and suitcases and sitting for hours in a car is going to have you curved like an apostrophe. Migraines? Wait until the changes in barometric pressure get ahold of your sinuses! And let’s not forget depression and anxiety. Having an actual reason to be depressed and anxious is not as reassuring as you might think – so fill those prescriptions and keep them close.

Lesson Three: You’re going to find out what you’re made of. What I’m made of is apparently an addiction to email and social media and Shonda Rhimes dramas with a dash of Gilmore Girls thrown in. None of those are available when your power goes out. I love to read, but the guilt of using up flashlight batteries for something that isn’t going to save my life means I don’t read as much.

Lesson Four: You’ll find out what kind of a spouse you are and what kind of parent you are. Forget those Facebook quizzes about what color your aura is. It would be much more useful to find out if you’re the type to kill your husband after one day of hurricane stress, or whether you can wait until the second day to turn homicidal.

Lesson Five: You find out how dramatic and judgmental family and friends can be. Everyone had an opinion on evacuation and assumed that whether someone went or stayed had everything to do with choice and intellect and nothing to do with circumstances. I’ve been on both sides. I’ve had good reasons for both. But I’m amazed at how people feel free to judge me whichever I choose, and how they judge others. It’s the height of arrogance to think that you know what someone’s decision should be. Some people make the wrong decision, but few do it because they feel like they had a choice. I know enough now not to judge. Unless they’ve left their animals in a situation where the animal doesn’t stand a chance of surviving. Those people I judge.

Lesson Six is one that really stays with you: You learn how isolated you are, but you also learn how connected you are.

Isolation is how vulnerable you feel, whether you go or whether you stay. You aren’t in control. Nature is. Fate is. And sometimes, human nature is, because I read stories of looters breaking in to a couple of homes or cars left behind. Yeah, it’s just stuff. But if it’s YOUR stuff and you have no way of protecting it, it’s a pretty awful thing.

But, the connection is what helps with the isolation. It might be the most important lesson of all. You learn how really decent people can be. If you stayed, you stop and talk with the few other brave souls and you find yourself watching out for your neighbors in ways that you don’t in normal life. If you left, you find grace and mercy. A hotel clerk who slips you a couple of dog biscuits for your pets. First responders who come from surrounding areas to help your community before you can get back there.

So, next hurricane – because you know there’s going to be one – watch the hyped-up Weather Channel if you have to. But remember these lessons too.

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Hurricane Season

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Happy Hurricane Season.

We are still reeling from Harvey, remembering the anniversary of Katrina, and looking over our shoulder at Irma.

Hurricane season. The time of year when many of us get to gamble about whether to stay or whether to leave, whether to be foolish or brave. Time to face that, no matter how much we hate our neighbor, it just may be his generosity that pulls us out of the flood.

I’ve been doing a lot of hating on my neighbors lately.

Not necessarily my literal neighbors – although the 3 am revelers get special curses – but my metaphorical neighbors who proudly and defiantly still support the other guy.

I have even more special curses for them and for their stupidity. Why they would vote for someone who bragged about grabbing pussies, who clearly and demonstrably lied every time he opened his mouth, is beyond me. No time to talk to people that stupid.

I don’t suffer fools well.

When I was in public relations, I had a client – let’s just say they were concerned with mental health – that never wanted to use language that they called “blaming and shaming.”

I got where they were coming from – those who had mental health issues had enough to deal with without stigmatizing language. So, I carefully wrote language that talked about “people with mental health challenges” as opposed to “schizophrenics.” It is the kind of language that has come up with the tongue-twisting “differently-abled” instead of “disabled” or “handicapped.”

And, while I wrote this stuff – they were the client, they paid the bills – I secretly sneered. In real life, I’m all about the blame and shame.

Call a spade a spade. Idiots are idiots, and life’s too short.

But here’s what I see on Facebook:

–people on BOTH sides spreading fake news

–people on BOTH sides getting angry about things that don’t matter (okay, admittedly bad optics, but does it really matter that Melania wore heels to Harvey? Really?)

–people on BOTH sides slinging insults (Libtard, Trumptard, etc.) and just not listening.

And, I get it. Yes, call a spade a spade. A racist is a racist is a racist. It shouldn’t matter why.

Except, it does. Because just shaming and blaming does nothing to change things. It’s not like a racist is going to see my scorn, slap his head in dismay, and realize that he has been mistaken his whole life.

And, I realize that I have the white privilege to just scorn something that doesn’t affect me personally.

Still…

That client liked to change my language from using, “but” to using “and.”

“Different things can co-exist,” she used to say.

People can vote their self-interest AND still sacrifice to save others during a hurricane. People can have a fundamentally different mind-set AND still be lovable.

So, it’s hurricane season.

Maybe it’s time to wash away all the shit we’ve been wading in since November. To pull our neighbors out of the flood of invective. To hold out a hand and say, “Hi, I’m differently politically-abled than you are. Want a seat in my boat?”

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My Katrina

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We mourn more when a pretty woman sustains a disfiguring injury than when an ugly one does. It’s not right, but we do.

So, when New Orleans, that sly seductress, was torn open and apart by the fury that was Hurricane Katrina, the nation felt it viscerally. It didn’t seem right that the lovely Party Girl that was NOLA, one who so generously shared her graces, should be brought low.

New Orleans is my home town, although I haven’t lived there since I was a little girl. My extended family does, though, and even now they greet me with that nonchalant disinterest in my adopted cities, because none could ever be as glorious as New Orleans, so why would they care? New Orleans has always been a city immodest in its many blessings: great food, drink, music, literature, beauty.

All of that changed 10 years ago, when Katrina scarred the beauty that was New Orleans and left it humbled and bewildered.

My first concern was for people. I remember the frustration of fallible technology as I waited for days for family members to check in. My parents, riding it out in an RV with my aunt and uncle, just barely out of the path of Katrina’s fury. A cousin, hiding out in Houston. An uncle, living on his boat because it just seemed safest when so much of New Orleans was water anyway.

And, then, my concern was for the homes. Roofs lost. Refrigerators full of old food and mold. Grand trees toppled. One aunt in Lakeview whose home was submerged, and an uncle whose car engine was soaked with the ugly, smelly water that filled the streets.

And, finally, the city itself and waiting to see if the lovely party girl of a city would rise from her knees, laughing at fate as she has always done.

For this last, I am still waiting. There is laughter, the kind of grim gallows humor the city does so well. But there is a shadow behind the eyes too. I see it in the poorest neighborhoods that haven’t quite recovered, in the Third World buckling streets the city hasn’t found the money or the gumption to fix, in the families who lost close ones to the floods, or to the floods of refugees who left for Florida or Texas and never came back.

When I visit, New Orleans has the look of a woman still beautiful, but whose gaiety has been dimmed by the knowledge that even a beautiful woman can be knocked down and, if it has happened once, it can happen again some time.

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