Thursday, November 08, 2012

Because I Said So: Kids so far unscathed by ravages of nature

I was in Panama City, FL, for several hurricanes in 1995, one of the busiest seasons for the storms on record in the Gulf of Mexico, and recall Hurricane Opal, in particular, a massive Category 5 that would be downgraded to a Category 4 just before coming ashore near Navarre Beach, some 70 miles from where we were. It was the only storm for which we evacuated, traveling 90 miles north to Dothan, AL, just ahead of the storm. It took us hours and hours, creeping along Highway 231, to reach a Ramada Inn where my family was already hunkered down.

That night was spent with no electricity while rain, wind and tornadoes raged outside. People milled about in the lobby and, full to capacity, sat in darkened hallways with their belongings and their family pets. It was a communal spirit that took over in the face of unrelenting nature as always seems to happen. Catastrophic occurrences, whether man-made or the wrath of Mother Nature, tend to bring out the best of the human spirit in survivors, neighbors, and those from across a continent. We've seen it time and again, and we saw it just last week when Hurricane Sandy landed upon the northeast.

I ran across this piece in The Paris Review, written by Spencer Woodman, on his thoughts as the storm raged outside his window and he read by candlelight from The Last Gentleman by the great Walker Percy:
For Percy, the transformative power of a hurricane lies not just in the immediate excitement, the break in routine it brings, but more so in a storm’s capacity to limit the range of human choice, its ability to deliver a whole city from the chaotic realm of the Possible back the unquestioning mode of the Necessary.
It's the Necessary that brings us all together, it's the common denominator in being alive, in staying alive, and it's what we will come together to provide for one another, as best we can, when times call for it.

The "Because I Said So" column this week is on natural disasters and my family's disastrous state of preparedness for such events. I make light, maybe because humor is part of the Necessary, but I also urge you to help the victims of Sandy, the recent earthquake in South America, and anywhere else people struggle at the hands of that which is out of our control.

Kids so far unscathed by ravages of nature
Other than last week's tremors sent across the river by an Arkansas earthquake that didn't even register on their sugar-addled seismographs, my children have, thankfully, never known a natural disaster. So when the windswept farmhouse of reality landed on them in the form of news coverage and classroom discussion about Hurricane Sandy last week, they were properly awed.

I can recall accounts of 1992's Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 that hit South Florida, where my kids' grandmother now lives, and of Floyd, which struck North Carolina in 1999. I was there for Hurricane Opal when it devastated the Gulf Coast in 1995 and was amazed by the brutal force of Mother Nature on those small coastal towns where so many Memphians vacation.

Even without experience, my kids are ready. Their bedrooms are natural disaster preparedness zones. Several years ago, I witnessed a search-and-rescue planning exercise conducted by the city of Memphis and the Medical Education Research Institute in which a nondescript office was transformed into a panic-stricken site of destruction. The scene had nothing on my kids' rooms. Watching them pick among the ruins for an errant shoe or long-lost textbook is like watching Tennessee Task Force 1 brave shards of concrete and fire to find survivors. I'm thinking of leashing some kids and leasing them to the rescue team.

The weather-related catastrophes of my children so far have been limited to heavy rains and lost electricity when they've had to suffer through an evening of no television or Internet access. The candles amuse them for a while, like tiny torches in a cave; the flashlights entertain them longer, until the batteries run out.

We have only the rudiments of a survival kit in our home for when the big quake that the experts promise us is coming finally does arrive. We have 6 gallons of fresh water stockpiled and, as of this writing, half a box of Pop-Tarts, one working flashlight, five Bud Light Limes bought by mistake, an untold number of plastic Kroger bags we keep forgetting to return for recycling and a closet full of board games to keep us entertained or to burn for warmth.

Hurricane Sandy was mild compared to some, but the area she hit is densely populated, and much havoc has been wreaked. Though I kid here, the hardships and loss felt by those in her path are real, and should you be inclined, I urge you to contact, or another relief agency of your choosing, to make a donation and help those in need today, and those who will certainly need help in the future.

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.