I’ve discovered a new reverence for hurricanes in general over the past week. In fact, it’s almost beyond normal “reverence” and falls into the OCD category and, once I realized this, I quickly switched my focus back on writing lest I discover that my newest life calling is meteorology. This obvious follows in Hurricane Ike’s wake, which still disturbs and intrigues me days later.
With spending as much time in Ohio as I have, I’ve grown completely apathetic to most storms. Tornadoes: meh, I live in an urban area so there’s no reason to really fear them *knocks on wood* Nor’easters: Don’t live in MA anymore so nothing to fear there and quite frankly, I love the idea of several feet of snow and forced solitude. Hurricanes: meh, that’s something that happens to people who live in the south and if they don’t heed the thousands of warnings to evacuate, they deserve what happens to them…or so I thought.
After Katrina, my view on people who “ride out the storm” did a complete 180 as I realized that many people simply haven’t got a place to evacuate. I know what finally drove that home for me, too. There was an image I believe on Time or Newsweek of these two women, one younger, one much older, in the midst of half a mile of floodwater as a rescue copter tries to rescue them. The younger women has one hand stretched toward the helicopter, but her other arm is wrapped around the elderly woman and the younger was is clearly screaming. It takes you a minute of looking at this image to understand the reason behind the younger woman’s scream; the elderly woman, most likely a relative, was dead and there was no way she could simply leave her body to the still rising waters. It was a very sobering image and it was more than anything that changed the way I viewed hurricanes and the people who were not simply “riding out the storm,” but were left behind to see if they could survive the storm. Ike, like Katrina, has taught me something about myself and also changed the way I view the world.
Of all the places in the world I could have imagined as being safe from a hurricane, as of Saturday September 13th, I would have put Ohio at the top of that list and yet after the fact, I’m not sure what still bothers me most: the idea that we had a low-level hurricane, my reactions during said natural occurrence or the fact that there are people who suffered a thousand times worse than me and still must figure out how to pick up their lives after this.
I’d been reading about Ike for days on the BBC (no, I still haven’t learned my lesson) and had even said a short prayer for those who were suffering under the weight of the storm before I’d gone to church Sunday morning. When I got home, however, and began my traditional Sunday ritual of procrastination, I was first bothered and then truly scared to hear the wind howling outside my window. I kept looking through the blinds asking myself “Should I take cover or something?” because of the way the trees were bending and, the real coup d’état, the way the walls of the apartment began to shaking under the pressure of the wind. There is something behind the realization that the building in which you sit could possibly collapse that is more unnerving than seeing swirling clouds against a red sky in the distance. Perhaps if there’d been some rain, I’d have been able to categorized all that wind as simply a normal storm, but without rain, there did not seem to be an explanation. There was only wind and, because I live in Ohio and the idea that a hurricane could ever possibly come across land and reach my midwestern state seemed utterly laughable a week ago, I had no choice but to fear the unknown.
I find myself rather intrigued over how I react to fear. Mostly, I counter it with denial until I receive utmost proof that something is wrong, ie: the power went out and I was forced to react instead of simply ignore. That phrase I always repeat to myself “Well, surely…” tries to disguise the denial, but that’s all it really is. Well, surely the building won’t collapse. Well, surely there’s nothing really wrong. Well, surely this must be just some random wind. When the power went, I knew that surely I’d been sitting in denial just keep myself from losing the proverbial “it.”
What was also fascinating about myself was the actual reaction to a lack of power. My first reaction…my first and only preoccupation was finding an internet connection. I stood in my bedroom for about two minutes staring at the clock as I finally conceded that the power was gone and was not just flickering and then I packed up my laptop to find someplace with WiFi. I didn’t think about getting provisions or making sure that when I returned I could find a flashlight and find my way around the apartment; just finding an internet connection. My mother has been saying for years that I have an addiction to the Internet, but Sunday was the first time I’d lent any credence to the idea. Even when I got to Panera and was able to log into this and that, I didn’t actually use it. It was almost as if the idea that the world was at my fingertips should I need any information that kept me sane.
After I got thrown out of Panera, I made another observation about myself. I had two choices in front of me. On the one hand, I had my cell phone, my own communication device and source of help should I find myself in an emergency and then I had my iPod which plays music and my Futurama episodes. I was down to one bar on my phone and yet, video on the iPod took up a lot of power, so I needed a source of power. The plan was to charge my iPod while I went to the movies and charge my phone overnight so I could have my iPod entertain me whilest the power was gone. Instead of choosing to ensure I had a means to find rescue in an emergency, I chose my iPod and its many playlists. When I realized the stupidity of this decision, I went into a complete state of denial thinking about the music I would later put on my phone to avoid the problem in the future as I went into Walmart to get car chargers for my phone and iPod.
Once in Walmart, the evening became a really interesting glimpse into how low mankind has gone as a society. Aside from the fact that people suddenly could not drive now that they had no traffic lights to tell them to do anything, the crowds in Walmart made no sense to the normal flow of things. The store was vaguely populated for a Sunday night, but that was to be expected considering the number of people with nothing better to do, but the amount of people in the electronics area defied all logic. There actually people standing in the aisles staring at random nature programs/or just an escalated screen saver that was playing on the televisions that were lined around the Wii games and DVDs. This one guy was just standing there and staring at the screen as if he’d never seen television before. Society has fallen to such a low that when the power goes out, we seek out the closest avenues that will bring us television, or simply electronics and the Internet in my case.
Normally, I pride myself as being above the rest of society in only turning on my television once a week to watch SVU during the season and never even knowing when the remote control is during the summer re-runs, but even I fit the bill of the doomed society when I could have easily lost my mind if I hadn’t found an internet connection as quickly as I could. Lord knows what we’ll all do once nuclear war hits and there’s no cable at all!
The most distressing thing out of this entire mess, however, is the damage a hurricane could create in a place not accustomed to receiving them. The tropics are used to having the crap slapped out of them every summer and early Fall, but Ohio was just not built to withstand that kind of thing except in the short bursts of a tornado. It was just too much for me and the rest of the city to take and understand and it was too much for our facilities and trees to take. Some areas were without power until Thursday afternoon and I shudder when I think about in what kind of shape I would be if I were one of those people.
My heart goes out to all the people in Haiti and Texas who have been battered by hurricanes this season. When something like this happens every single year, I know I at least, tend to get apathetic and forget all that I take for granted. This is evening/morning was the first time I’ve had Internet at my fingertips in the comfort of my own home and I’m amazed at how I’ve fared this long. I wish I could see I won’t fall into the trap of apathy and forgetfulness when it comes to this storm, but hopefully the feel of my walls shaking under duress will keep me in check when I’m thinking about how “bad” things are getting in my life.