It’s Monday afternoon. I am waiting for a hurricane to arrive. It’s called Isaias, the first of the season to affect the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve waited for lots of hurricanes to arrive over the years.
My experiences with hurricanes have been tempered by where I’ve lived –– by the water. Except for a brief stint upstate New York in college, and a couple of years in Connecticut, I have always lived by the water.
Hurricanes are born over the water. Significant numbers impact the land as they grow. There is a certain titillation when anticipating their arrival at the water’s edge. I have waited for many hurricanes over my lifetime –– mostly along Long Island Sound and the Chesapeake Bay. My feeling about anticipating hurricanes has changed in reverse ratio to my age. As a kid, and for most of my midlife, anticipating these storms and riding them out was a blast, party time. Power outages, candlelight, wine, hunkering down safely amid the tumult, listening to wind howling outside; it was a glorious adventure. Now, if there is any party time at all, it’s only when the hurricanes are spent and gone.
Until the last few years, we’ve kept our 38-foot sailboat at our dock near St. Michaels. Some of my anxieties about storms have been around the boat’s safety. In preparing for a hurricane, securing a 38-foot cutter to the dock was tricky. Leaving sufficient slack on the lines to allow for the rising and falling tide levels, while keeping them sufficiently taught as to keep the boat from banging against the pilings, was a challenge. After I had I adjusted the lines, I would walk away still unsure. Would the boat would stay safe if I were not there? The feeling was not unlike the one I had when my first child left home and went to face the world on her own.
I do not have the boat anymore. As with all worries, just as one leaves, another takes its place. As I anticipate Isaias, I go to my iPhone and search Weatherbug. Six weather alerts pop up; they include notifications of flash flooding, tornados, a tropical storm, a hurricane, severe storms and coastal flooding. Not reassuring.
High water is my biggest worry. During hurricane Isabel years ago the storm surge caused extraordinarily high tides; the water rose just above the floorboards of my studio soaking the rug. The humidity dampened photographic papers, ruined pictures and left watermarks on furniture legs. Then my wife and I were young and strong. We ripped up the rug, pried floorboards loose to pull out the soaked insulation. We hauled books to the house to dry and it took two months to get my studio back to normal.
It’s now Tuesday morning. I managed to sleep through most of the night, an achievement in itself. Typically, I will fret and can’t sleep. The storm has been raging all night. Isaias is predicted to pass in about three hours. It’s apparent now that it will not go gently into that good day. The wind increases. Trees sway and toss wildly. Rain falls in torrents. I hear more warning signals from my iPhone. The alerts sound frantic, like horns that call all hands to their stations when the submarine is about to dive.
As I seek solace from the Weather Channel, I notice a pecking order among its staff. It’s a folksy place –– everyone on a first name basis ––I know them as Jim, Stephanie, Jen, Mike, Heather, to mention a few. Rick Knabb, however always gets addressed as Dr. Knabb, and Gregory Forbes as Dr. Forbes. I don’t think they necessarily know more than Stephanie Abrams or Jim Cantore. Nevertheless, it’s comforting in these times to know that before being put in harm’s way, those advising us actually listen to scientists.
At 10:45am, the storm has pulled out all the stops, about to make a grand exit. I grow tense as I watch the willow oak, the locust trees and the pines bend and sway such that I am sure they will break and fall any minute. The rain has ceased to fall vertically. Defying gravity, it flies by horizontally, striking the windows, pelting them. The world, already terminally gray, grows even darker. Water cascades from the roof. It sounds like drum rolls and rushes down onto the driveway, churning like rapids do.
As if with the turn of a rheostat, the deep gray day slowly brightens. The wind and rain persist for a short time and then I feel hopeful. Soon it will end, but I am wary. Hurricanes are notoriously fickle. As the gray day grows brighter, for the first time I see details in the cloud cover and in a few minutes, streaks of blue break through. The end is near. I feel elated, delivered, grateful. But grateful for what?
I think I was stunned by the primal beauty the moment revealed: my world, shortly before, was at the mercy of overpowering wind and ominous waters. The transformation was glorious as the blue sky began to predominate the scene, floating creamy white cloud puffs as they sped through the sky. Cooler and less humid air filled my lungs. The world seemed radiant to me. Of course, it was the same world as before the storm. But, I had passed through one dimension of that eternal rhythm of existence: from uncertainty to hope; from confinement to release; from danger to deliverance and from turbulence to quiescence.
This peculiar process through which humanity passes time and again is described by a nameless psalmist who wrote this thousands of year ago: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Last Tuesday was a beautiful day in my neighborhood. It was a joyful time, not one to party, but an afternoon to quietly relish.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.