There’s a moment, with every hurricane that I’ve been in, when I’m sure I’ve made a huge mistake. I should have gone to another room, maybe I should have left altogether, I should have taken in that one potted plant that I thought would be just fine. (I laid it down in a corner, after all.)
After the projected path going back and forth over the peninsula, and some saying it would go another way altogether, Irma’s eye went almost directly over Lakeland, just to the west of our house.
And we felt it and heard it. There’s always a moment, when we’re lying in bed and there’s a hurricane knocking outside, when the windows shake and something starts rattling or pounding and we don’t know where in the world that noise could be because we’ve never heard it before, where I think, “We actually may not make it through this one.”
But I had forgotten about the inevitability of that moment.
This happened in Okinawa with Typhoon Jelawat too, the one that bent back all the street lights and uprooted trees across our neighborhood, the one that you can still google ‘jelewat, cars flipped over’ and get some shaky videos shot from barracks windows on the bases of cars sliding around the parking lot, and one unfortunate Okinawan island beater car ramming into bushes, summersaulting over them, and rocking back and forth on a grassy hill where it landed.
That time no part of the house was safer than any other; there were no big trees, the whole house was made of concrete blocks, and the metal shutters or metal bars covered every window, but we still thought maybe the inside hallways would be a bit better if it came right down to it. The shutters slammed back and forth, and it started to get hot quickly after we lost electricity, and we wondered how we ended up there, on that small island just a sliver of the size of the storm.
This time, we had the path to the bathroom, the inmost, window-less room mapped out in our heads, and we were one more house shake away from scooping up the miraculously sleeping boys and huddling in the bathtub. (Which would have really been uncomfortable, since we filled it with water to flush our toilets.)
But we’ve never had to actually do that one last run, not in Okinawa, not here, but whether or not that says something about the storm or when we choose to run is anyone’s guess. (As in, I’d rather you didn’t guess.) But each time we’re reminded just how big these storms are, how terrible they can be, how the wind can swirl and howl and rip trees out of the ground and roofs off houses.
But each time they’re done, when we come back to real life, the real life is a bit different then it was before. It’s tinged with a hint of freedom, there’s a haze of care-free recklessness in the air. We come back to the worries about what’s for dinner instead of calculating how much water a two year old will drink in a day. We come back to saying ‘GO PLAY OUTSIDE’ to the squabbling boys instead of, ‘Yes, let’s play hide in the blankets again FOR THE TWENTY SECOND TIME’ because we can’t leave the room. We come back to the ‘Oh, the floors need to be finished’ instead of the ‘Will the house be destroyed tomorrow?’
It’s nice to be back in that normal place, but it’s even better to be reminded of the beauty of normal, because if we live in the normal for too long we forget about it. We forget about how restful and how small our little worries actually are compared to the real problems in the world, or we think that the little things should be big things, and we make a big deal out of something that should only be a minor inconvenience.
Because the one thing about hurricanes, when you’re worried you won’t have a roof tomorrow, you go a little easier on the barista who gives you the wrong size coffee. Or the child who just got served milk in the wrong glass.
It’s perspective, it’s the holding up of the normal against the extraordinary and putting in enough time with both so that you can recognize which one is which and be able know the benefits of living in the one you’re in.
So the tree isn’t quite off the house yet, and we still have a totaled car in the driveway, but we’re making our way back to normal, back to the little moments where lost toothbrushes seem like the end of the world, except now we’ve been given the gift of actual fear and loss, and so we know they’re not.
It’s in the in betweens, where the best life is, after all. In the journeys from the one thing to the other, in the settling of things after your life has been shaken up, sat on it’s head, and pounded on for a while.
In those moments when you can remember that whatever is happening, at least your house is still standing.