Notes From the Underground Or, Apropos of the Coming Storm
This essay was in the process of contemplation and composition when, thanks to Hurricane Irma, all the lights, air conditioning and internet were lost. Consequently, it has had to be put off until just how. It's weird going a week without posting an essay. So far as I know, this is the first week I've missed since February 2005. In any event, I am delighted to report that we are all well, suffered precious little damage, and now find ourselves with cool air, cold water and hot WiFi. Who could ask for anything more? And by the way, if the title of this piece doesn't make a lot of sense, do familiarize yourself with the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, the father of Existential literature . . .
Waiting for a hurricane to arrive exacts a crushing toll on one's nerves and psyche, not to mention putting one's kishkes into painful twisted knots. As a Californian who has gone through several major earthquakes, I can tell you a simple truth: I greatly prefer severe quaking to interminable waiting. Earthquakes happen when you least expect them; one is spared the dozens upon dozens of hours of continuous television and radio coverage - of the countdown to climatologic Armageddon. True, one can take precautions and make preparations for Andrew, Wilma, Harvey or Irma; but in the long-run, they're going to exact whatever vengeance they choose. There are also any number of precautions one can take against earthquakes (most in terms of construction), but again, in the long-run they're going to exact as much vengeance as they please. The big difference, as stated, above, is in the waiting. Waiting for Irma reminded me of the scene in Casablanca when Rick, Ilsa and Sam were hanging out at La Belle Aurore, waiting, waiting for the Nazis to reach Paris. All they could do was wait, listen to the cannons, and drink champagne . . .
Even before Irma arrived, there were interminable tornado warnings . . . each extended by fifteen, thirty, sixty minutes or more. In comparison to the bear which is a category 5 hurricane, a tornado is a mere bee sting. When Irma finally arrived, we were hunkered down, listening to what sounded like a 10,000-mile long freight train whizzing past our the house at lightening speed for hours on end. This was, to say the least, both a frightening and a deeply humbling experience. Frightening for obvious reasons. (Heck, the only folks who wouldn't have suffered from fright were, like Rick, Ilsa and Sam, probably indulging in a bit of the grape). Humbling, to realize in CAPITAL LETTERS how utterly powerful and destructive the forces of nature and nature's God, can be.
This show of immense, ineffable power makes all our petty pride and status-filled striving seem as utterly insane as the rantings of Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov. Nothing - not wealth, nor status nor connections - can every hope to overpower the forces of nature. And anyone who causes us to believe they can is an utter fool . . . and even worse, a self-deluded idiot.
Coming on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, I thought to myself (while sitting in the dark near my wife and dog) "who in their right mind can still deny climate change and its role in creating not one but two massive blows in a single week?" Well, in the weeks leading up to these latest hurricanes, Rush Limbaugh and his buds-with-mikes were coming across like Irma truthers. Limbaugh the loon actually had the errant chutzpah to tell his devoted fringe that hurricanes and massive tropical storms are simply part of a liberal conspiracy solely aimed at furthering the discussion on climate change, And then, within 24 hours, he announced that he was evacuating South Florida . . . for reasons of "security." Ah consistency; the hobgoblin of little minds!
For those who are not aware, there is a single street in Palm Beach (S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, 33480 to be precise) on which live (at least during the winter) four of the world's biggest, baddest, boldest climate change deniers: Ann Coulter, the increasingly irrelevant Flush . . . eh, Rush, '45, and the Brothers Koch. These aren't just homes; they are palaces ranging in size from 20,000 to more than 62,000 square feet - not to mention the beach-front acreage. One has to wonder if all that has happened to their princely abodes will change their minds about the state of the weather. One can only hope.
So now we dig and dry out, decide whether or not to finally install those hurricane-proof windows and shutters, and await the next storm (perhaps Hurricane Melania?). It all makes great fodder for the High Holiday sermons I shall begin delivering in less than a week. One of points I shall do doubt be highlighting is how disasters such as Harvey and Irma tend to bring out the best, most humane aspects of an otherwise disparate and divided folk. One can see it in the patience and consideration that drivers show in going through intersections one car at a time; of neighbors going door to door to see if there's anything they can do - and then extending a hand, arm or leg in the cause of community. I've read and heard of Muslims helping Jews and rock-ribbed conservative Christians lending assistance to same-sex couples. It is, without question, a very, very good thing to learn that the folks next door are just as human, just as vulnerable, just as loving as you are.
We will, without question, long remember Harvey and Irma - their power, their destructiveness and terrifying ability to totally destroy and uproot. May they also be long remembered as having been the cause for us reaching out to our neighbors as if they were the closest of kin. And may Harvey and Irma also teach the naysayers that hurricanes, tornadoes and tropical storms have as much to do with the misdeeds of man as with the power of the Divine.
Be safe, be proactive, but above all be kind . . .
Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone