This isn’t my first hurricane. That dubious honor goes to a storm known as Hugo. I was just a kid at the time and barely paid attention to the fuss made about the storm on the news. Why should I? It formed far away and was impacting people I’d never met. Going to school and playing with my friends were much more important.
The hurricane weakened as it came in contact with land. I was even less concerned. I went to bed that night thinking that while there might be a few gusts and a little extra rain, the next day would look much like the day before.
When I woke, I noticed that a neighbor’s tree now lay at an angle, its truck split in two. Branches that once reached out and up, not lay on along the street making it appear more like a person performing a yoga child’s pose than a tree. I saw then exactly what a few gusts could do.
But the storm hadn’t just fallen a couple of old trees. The air felt different, so very still and the sky took on an odd yellow, green, gray color. But the most notable difference was the lack of animal sounds. The storm, seemingly, had taken us all by surprise.We counted ourselves fortunate that there wasn’t more damage. Neighbors helped neighbors. Some offered use of chainsaws, while others helped remove debris. I started to wonder if the storm might actually prove to be a good thing as a party formed in the street in front of my house and several neighbors rolled out their grills to share food with the masses rather than have it spoil in unpowered fridges. No one wanted the hurricane, but at least we all were making the best of the situation. We’d rebuild. We’d grow stronger because that is what we do.
But the power was out and the power stayed out and soon the lasting impacts of the storm began to take their toll. All told, it took nearly two weeks for the power to be restored in the area. My mom, for reasons she hasn’t shared with us, but I suspect have something to do with finding us playing with lit candles without adult supervision, shipped me and my sisters up north to our Grandparents’ house to wait out the repairs like waifs fleeing from war.
I’ve experienced more storms since, some more memorable than others. Storms going by names like Fran, Floyd, and Bonnie. Names that always sound so sweet and unthreatening. It is easy to downplay their danger. Oh, it’s only a category 1 or 2. That’s not all that bad. It’s just wind and no real substance. These things never impact us. We’ll stay indoors today. Maybe stock up on an extra beer or two. And so we go about our day-to-day confident that we’ll be able to ride this storm out the same as we have a dozen times before.
Hurricane Hugo was considered a category 1 storm when its eye crossed over us. That single category 1 storm, which we nearly all ignored, was responsible for multiple deaths, rendered 50,000 people homeless, created damage costing billions, and was able to set back progress by decades, if only temporarily. Hurricanes should never be ignored. Hurricanes always matter.
Okay. You caught me. There is a metaphor here after all.
Matthew isn’t the only storm on the horizon. Another storm is coming. One that affects those in Kansas as well as the coast. But thankfully, while Matthew is imminent, we still have a month left to prepare for this coming storm. So, my American friends, take advantage of this time and take this storm seriously. Understand the potential impacts, on others as well as yourself. Research the local issues and the local candidates as much as the national ones. Stock up on pop-tarts and bottled water if that’s your thing. But whatever you do, don’t stay in your homes and think to wait this one out or go out there unprepared.
Never forget, the eye of a hurricane has two walls. While initial after party might be fun – we survived, can you believe it is finally over, I can finally talk to my family a/o neighbors again – the storm’s impact will last longer than you might expect. Elections always matter. So do your homework. And Vote.