Friday, August 29, 2008

Everyone Knows It's Windy

In some ways my life is now 3 years old - my new life that is, for it's been 3 years today since Katrina turned my world completely upside down. I saw so much destruction, so much quiet suffering, so much disappointment, heartache, fear and frustration following that storm that it changed me and my world view forever. There's little more disconcerting than having your entire emotional and physical landscape re-arranged in a matter of hours. To have your world collapse in on itself. To have the systems you counted on break down completely right in front of you. It's confusing to know you survived and others didn't and later that the joy of surviving would often give way to the pain of loss and irrevocable, catastrophic change.

It's easy to get lost in the leftover effects and damage caused by Katrina but as I sat today and reflected on what it meant for us to have experienced it I realize that I lost a lot, including, eventually, my mother (she was injured during the storm and never walked again, subsequently dying of pneumonia and a host of causes primarily related to her being bedridden...and I suspect a contributing cause might have been a broken heart, for Katrina and its aftermath completely broke her heart) but even so, I didn't lose as much or suffer as long as some folks did. Finally, when we were able to leave, we left. I've only been back to Biloxi a few times since Sept. 2005. Over the years I would often sorely miss my South Mississippi beach haven. Then I would go visit, and watch the community struggle to rebuild....brave and determined, that's no lie...and I would walk around streets that no longer looked familiar and have to track down businesses that I'd patronized for years, because they moved. Last time I was there, in July, I looked around at the beginning-not-to-look-so-battered landscape of my sweet Mississippi home and thought again, "I miss Biloxi."

At that moment I realized what I was yearning for was forever gone with the wind and the water. I would miss Biloxi whether I was in Biloxi or not. It's a yearning for a missing friend. It's the mourning for a dead relative. The sadness over an intregal part of the heartbeat of your life that has changed forms and left you to figure out the rest. And we will. The Gulf Coast will recover. And yet the Gulf Coast, and we Katrina survivors, are forever changed.

Now Gustav threatens. Katrina's bad boy brother is, at present, taking aim at an area not yet recovered from the last disaster. I can promise you that while the rest of the country finally went on with their lives after Katrina no one who experienced it has gone a day since without thinking about some aspect of what happened. Today, for the first time in 30 years I have neither a home nor a parent nor a sibling down on the coast and nothing of immediate worry except friends and humanity and all the animals down there, a generalized brooding over a dangerous situation. To watch the dire predictions on the Weather Channel and the cable news coverage without it connecting directly to me and mine is an odd sensation after experiencing the best and the worst of hurricane seasons from the 70s until 2005. This must be, I mused, like a veteran of one war watching another one on TV from his living room instead of from the inside of a tank. It's a totally different perspective of an upheaval that you know only too well.
I know what the people who are hunkering down and staying in the path of this storm are thinking and feeling. I know what they are steeling their nerves for. I know what the evacuees in the heavy highway evacuation traffic are thinking, how they are determined to do what needs to be done and hope to save their energy for the days ahead. I know the worries over water and gasoline and pets and houses and friends and neighbors. I know all of this and I will pray hard for the Gulf Coast states. I hope you will too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Scamper From The Camper

What's next? Locusts?

Today Tropical Storm (or remnants of) Fay -- she of the recent Florida flooding and 3 landfalls -- made her way to Alabama just in time to knock us around a bit. We had just come in from Atlanta on Sunday and had not even set our bags down when the tornado siren went off. John and I looked at each other and he turned on the Weather Channel. Bad weather to the north of us was drenching towns 35 miles away. We went ahead and set our bags down.

This morning at 9-something the sirens went off again and the alerts informed us that a funnel cloud (I almost wrote "funnel cake" - wishful thinking. Oh, to have one of those flung at me on a summer day) was spotted to the south of us and heading our way, to arrive, the alert said " at 9:55 a.m." This gave us 18 minutes to get ourselves and the dogs to safety. John threw the dogs and the leashes in the back of the Jeep, I grabbed my engagement rings, my make-up bag, my computer, my contact lenses and John's favourite pair of shorts and ran for the car. We'll talk about my priorities later. Just suffice it to say when you are trying to get out of the way of a tornado you really distill your needs and wants pretty quickly and apparently I wanted to look halfway decent when I was on the local news talking about the drama of running from a funnel, cloud. Apparently I also felt that John could stand next to me on TV and tell the heartwarming tale of how I saved his shorts.

We drove 3 miles down the road to Petsmart, reasoning of course that Petsmart is made of brick and mortar, unlike our RV, and allows pets inside, unlike, say, McDonalds, which is where we felt like going because we were hungry. We arrived at Petsmart a few minutes before the Weather Channel told us the tornado would. There was little wind and just a light rain. I fired up the computer in the car and checked, which told us that the tornado had dissipated before reaching our area and in 5 minutes the alert would expire. We sighed with relief, went grocery shopping, bought some take-out sushi and went home. Ah,the comforts of home. But don't sit down boys and girls. We're here just in time for another alert! This one was for "severe thunderstorms that are capable of producing tornadoes". We sat and munched our sushi, staring at the TV and wondering if we were going to have to make a run for the safety of Petsmart again. I didn't unpack my priorities, just in case. Eventually in the next half hour the weather went from worse to bad and we settled in for a nice rainy day indoors. The dogs snoozed and John and I made plans for Labor Day at the beach. He watched "The X Files" while I chatted with friends online.

Later I hear John's voice from the back of the RV : "There's another alert. This one is for flash flooding in our area."

"Great." I said, "This is getting biblical."

We decided to have a sandwich.