Hurricanes bring out the best and the worst in people
Another summer is coming to Florida, and another handful of hurricanes will cross the Atlantic, each with its own cone of uncertainty. This term refers to the area that can experience the fury of the storm.
In front of him, a line traces a probable future course. Starting narrow and widening to cover thousands of miles, the cone extends on both sides of this line.
What is a hurricane? A death sentence if you are poor in a poor country. A disadvantage if you experienced it in the cone, but not on the line. Pure terror for those who have experienced one on the line. Many experience the cone, few the line, the sure trajectory of the monster.
The word “hurakán” comes from the indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean, the Taíno people. “Center of the wind, heart of the sky.”
I’ve been online twice: Charley, Irma. We have to make drastic decisions. We know that a massive tree is two bursts away from falling and crushing our vehicle, badly parked too close to it. On a normal day, we would rush out and move the car. One day under the line, it doesn’t matter. What matters is putting the family in a closet with a mattress on top.
Everyday periods fade inside the cone. Fuel, food, water, ice, batteries become unavailable. In some people, civilized behavior also disappears. As the cone becomes a line, we see the face of despair. Fighting breaks out in markets and gas pumps.
After the hurricane, discomfort and irritation are the rule. Days or weeks without electricity are hard to bear for most, accustomed to air conditioning and electronic entertainment. The heat, the mosquitoes, the lack of sleep, a damaged roof put the nerves on edge. Many areas are flooded and the water brings trash, chemicals, poisonous snakes, sewage, dead animals.
The hurricane is a deep and powerful voice that reminds us of our place on Earth. Below the line, we’re just insects. Once, I allowed myself to spend time on a porch sheltered from the winds, with my wife and her relatives, to listen to the Voice.
The Voice is millions of years old. It’s a deafening roar. Pity is a human concept, foreign to the Voice.
Typhoon’s brothers are the volcano, the earthquake, the famine, the plague and the burning desert: nature’s tools for mixing and processing again and again, determining what is the right number of locusts and deer, snakes and humans, who can inhabit a territory without exhausting it. The Voice of the Hurricane speaks, but unlike the Taínos, we are unable to understand it.
On the porch that day, we saw how the raging winds toppled tall trees and power lines, destroying homes and vehicles. We shared the ancient terror of our animals.
Suddenly the eye of the storm sailed above us. The sun shone for a while, the winds stopped. The eye at the center of the hurricane is a few square miles without clouds or gales, surrounded by the swirling storm, a thousand times larger. It’s peaceful below, amid the destruction.
These minutes of peace can be revealing. There is a message in the contrast between the cruel Voice and the silence of the eye. We look through the eyes and we see a serene sky that has always existed and will always exist. A generous, indifferent sky, which offers us this day on Earth, but not the next.
Not a tongue but a silence, demanding that we appreciate the gift, and humbly accept that it’s not forever, without letting that knowledge stop us from doing what heaven demands: planting the tree knowing we won’t see not the fruit, to be the best version of ourselves, to give and not to ask. Life is short and should be honored, that’s the message.
I’ve talked about the hurricane bringing out the worst in people, but there’s another side to the coin. The hurricane is also capable of creating small miracles. I will always remember the days after Charley. Flooded, blocked roads, high heat and humidity, day after day without electricity or supplies. I had steaks in the freezer.
With my children, we took them out, started a fire and waded towards our neighbors so that they joined us. Word got around, three arrived, then 20, 50. “I don’t have enough food for everyone,” I thought. But others have started bringing in the contents of their now useless fridges and adding them to the grill. Just like the biblical story, the fish and the loaves continued to multiply!
In the shade of the surviving trees, we were all enjoying the first hot meal of the week, and most of us were meeting for the first time after being neighbors for years. New friendships were born. The neighbor who never spoke to anyone, hostile and brittle, was the last to join the feast, dragging a heavy cooler which contained — oh wonder, oh joy! — dozens of beers swimming in the melted ice.
A group of sweaty, tired humans in a random corner of Florida had found a reason for a celebration, a reason they had never had before. And we owed it to the hurricane. Cheers!
Santiago De Choch is an organic farmer from Suwannee County. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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