Yeah, I miss hurricane season.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Ever since I left my Florida hometown and moved to Birmingham, I’ve found myself thinking about hurricane season, which runs from June to the following June.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t miss the actual hurricanes. But I grew up in the Panhandle and I miss seeing neighbors hook arms during times of trouble.
There is nothing as unifying as a hurricane. Despite the destruction that hurricanes bring, hurricanes also bring families and entire regions together. I don’t know how they do it. But it’s true.
I’m not saying these storms aren’t terrifying, horrific, calamitous weather events so catastrophic they traumatize everyone in their paths. They are.
But somehow everyone sucks it up and says collectively, “We’re gonna get through this together.”
And we did. We always did.
Hurricane Michael’s epicenter made landfall 33 miles from my doorstep. After the storm, my wife and I helped with some relief work. And do you know what we saw?
We saw entire towns feeding each other, clothing one another. People cut their neighbor’s hair and paid each other’s bills. People watched each other’s kids, roofed each other’s homes, rebuilt each other’s lives. It was like a giant Love-a-Palooza.
Outsiders might look at such a scenario and say to themselves, “How awful, these towns are falling apart.” But the outsiders would be wrong. These towns were only getting stronger.
After a bad storm, it’s you and your little town against the whole world. There are no divisions. No nitpicking. No griping. Only people shouldering each other through one of the worst experiences they’ll ever have. Teenagers paint graffiti hearts on the sides of destroyed buildings, spelling words like PANHANDLE STRONG, or WE ARE ONE, or GOD BLESS US.
During my youth, our whole calendar year was built upon the possible occurrence of devastating tropical storms.
Hurricanes made their way into our daily conversations. Hurricanes were mentioned from pulpits. They were addressed in newspapers, radio broadcasts, playgrounds, barrooms, breakrooms, ballrooms and bar mitzvahs. But it only seemed to being people closer.
There is always a slight buzz in the air when a hurricane is in the Gulf. You go into a grocery store to purchase obscene quantities of bread, milk, and Clorox, and do you know what happens?
Strangers talk to each other. People have long, elaborate conversations about the weather, about life, about family with people they’ve never met.
During any other season, you might not speak to these people at all, but in hurricane season you’re kinfolk. You listen to each other. You offer to chainsaw fallen trees. They offer to unblock your driveway. You swap cell numbers in the parking lot.
Before the storm, it’s not uncommon to see enormous impromptu barbecues in backyards, where everyone uses up their refrigerated meat before the electricity dies. People throw parties. Neighbor families hunker down together.
And after a hurricane hits, it’s game on. You wake up each morning and you have an opportunity to do something meaningful. You’re downright high on adrenaline all day, usually from helping other people. Stuff gets done. Enemies become friends. Everyone—and I mean everyone—is nice to each other.
Meantime, the network news reporters visit our towns to get camera shots of devastation, or to film aerial footage of decimation, or to make frowny faces at the camera and say, “It’s all so heartbreaking, back to you, Jim.” But the reporters are—no offense—clueless.
Modern journalism rarely shows you the good stuff. Which is probably why people assume hurricanes are all bad.
Well, they aren’t. They aren’t necessarily a romp in the sunshine, either, but I wish you could see what I’ve seen.
I wish you could see the AME pastor, the drunk, the attorney, the eighth-grade science teacher and the teenage quarterback, all laboring side by side to rebuild a nursing home.
I wish you could see the shirtless kid with tattoos and golden teeth rescuing an old lady’s cat that is buried beneath rubble.
I wish you could see the school kids doing laundry for shut-ins. Or the Methodist choir rebuilding the garage of a World War II veteran. Or the Rotary Club building wheelchair ramps.
Come to think of it, maybe I don’t miss hurricane season at all. Maybe what I actually miss is seeing people in America give a dang about each other.
Susie - June 4, 2022 2:12 pm
I miss people giving a dand about each other, too, Sean.
Karl - June 4, 2022 2:14 pm
I grew up on the Gulf Coast in Mobile county Alabama. We lived and breathed for hurricane season. I can’t begin to say how many trees and fallen trees that I have cut up with chainsaws. I can’t even tell you the number of chainsaws I purchased along with generators and ice to bring in to hurricane areas where my parents and relatives lived. I’m 72 now I don’t do chainsaws anymore but I certainly have worn out a lot of them over the years. You are correct in indicating that people come together during hurricanes, people whom you haven’t even heard from for years pop up to help. People come from far and wide. Even after we move to Virginia we went down to Louisiana after hurricane Rita and Katrina to help rebuild. We went eight trips down from Virginia to do that. Because that what you do when you were raised in an area where hurricanes are the norm. Thanks for the article Sean one of your better ones.
Dawn Byrd - June 4, 2022 2:16 pm
I’m a Birmingham native. Not to worry. You’ll have tornadoes.
Deacon Nick - June 4, 2022 2:16 pm
Amen, Brother Sean! It is sad that too often it takes tragedy to bring people together. But it is our calling — each day and every day — to be Christ to those He brings into our lives; to become One in Christ.
Charlie Bob - August 23, 2022 5:48 pm
Amen Deacon Nick.
Joe Haynie - June 4, 2022 2:21 pm
Our neighbors formed a group called the “neighborhoodlums” after a level 3 tornado tore up our houses in March of 2020. After being strangers for years we have become close friends and travel together when we are not celebrating children’s and adult’s birthdays. We now Know What’s Important!
Jimmy Stewart - June 4, 2022 2:27 pm
Sean!!! Great word today. Couldn’t agree more. One of the things that has made our nation great has been the “love your neighbor as yourself” attitude. No doubt we have had our down moments and we are most certainly in or headed to another one but to your amazing point, “a neighbor in need is a friend indeed”! I was born 30 miles from the gulf. Lived almost 50 years in South Mississippi. I’ve lost track of the storms I’ve been through but was in the eye of Camille in ‘69 and Katrina in ‘05 (both times in Hattiesburg). I have seen what you have seen. I’ve been part of it as well. I never want to see a storm brewing, but when I do, I know it’s GO time!!! Now that you live in Birmingham, you’ll just be leading recovery efforts to impacted regions!!! Come on down, the waters really warm this year!!!
Kathy Bilodeau - June 4, 2022 2:29 pm
I started to receive your post every morning in my e-mail. I love reading them. I feel all the feels smiles, laughter and tears. Thank You Sean
Becky - June 4, 2022 2:30 pm
I love it when people come together but please, don’t wish for a hurricane. After a bad personal experience with Sally, I never want to go through that again. Yes, everyone was nice right after it happened but a couple of days later we were still left with a big hole in our roof and LOTS of bills for the cleanup and rebuild. Many people without insurance never got back in their homes because they couldn’t afford it. And my brother is still living in a fifth wheel in his driveway two years later because their contractor can’t find enough workers to complete the job. Yes, people pull together in a crisis, but I wish we could all be nicer without needing a tragedy to do so.
Virginia A Johnson - June 4, 2022 2:32 pm
Spot on. I had the privilege of being part of relief work after Katrina. There is no way to measure the blessing.
501 Pershing Ave - June 4, 2022 2:37 pm
Read daily. Love your work. Who does the terrific art work. The picture of Andy was amazing.
PS. As a former Community college president and president of a State System of CC I am proud to inform people that the famous Sean is a CC graduate.
Jean Hovey - June 4, 2022 2:38 pm
Rick Bragg said after the horrific tornadoes of 2011–I believe in the preface of the book, What Stands in a Storm–“One man with a chainsaw is worth fifty with a clipboard.” It’s true. It’s a bad day that makes the chainsaws come out, but it a good day when it happens.
Sheri K - June 4, 2022 2:38 pm
Oh Sean, your observations are so true! I’ve lived in Florida for over 40 years and it never ceases to amaze me how “the worst” can bring “the best” out in people. The preparation and anticipation are exhilarating. Some of the rain can be so soft and soothing too – provided it’s not flooding your home! Losing power, which for those of us not in the city, also means no running water or flushing toilets! That’s the worst!!! No shower for a week or so – Yuck!!! But we all pull together and shared suffering makes the suffering more bearable. I’m praying for south Florida right now as they’re being inundated with flooding rain and strong winds. Lord protect them and have mercy on those in the storms path. Hurricane season is here!!! I love you Sean and your kind heart!!
Anne Arthur - June 4, 2022 2:56 pm
It’s all about community, in good times and in bad. You’re right. I wish the entire world could be a functioning community, looking out for each other.
Karen Hughes - June 4, 2022 2:57 pm
Amen. You hit the nail on the head… like always.
Carla Walrath - June 4, 2022 3:10 pm
Sean, you’ve done it again. Amen and amen! You preach! As tears are falling down my face, you preach!
Jan - June 4, 2022 3:12 pm
So true. Nothing more beautiful than people working together to help each other in time of need!
Carol Pilmer - June 4, 2022 3:23 pm
Thanks for sharing the best parts of a Hurricane!
Paul McCutchen - June 4, 2022 3:31 pm
In this part of the south (I am south of Atlanta) we still have problems with hurricanes. We get the rain and for good measure a tornado or two, so you are not out of the woods in Birmingham.
jill - June 4, 2022 3:40 pm
Amen Yes. I’ve experienced this “drop all hatred” days after hurricanes, first in New Jersey growing up about 60 minutes from the beaches, then again here in Foley. Hurricane Sally, was over the top, the next day people were outside their homes at dawns early light, calling out to one another, “Do you need tarps?”, “How’s your cell power, I have a charger you can use.”, “Got a generator coming, you can put food in our fridge.”, “Whose venturing out to try and get gas and water today?”, “How’s the elderly folks in this house and that house?”. For 4 days we worked together, spoke to one another, depended on each other and most of all enjoyed having neighbors to share the experience. You didn’t feel alone.
BW Bua - June 4, 2022 3:41 pm
“…..giving a dang about each other”……we all miss
that!,……even when there is no hurricanes where one lives…🤟🏻
Patricia Gibson - June 4, 2022 3:44 pm
Me too, Sean but we always come together in a crisis! Thank God for that❤️❤️
Nan - June 4, 2022 3:50 pm
Your last sentence says it all!!!❤️
Mimi Phillips - June 4, 2022 3:54 pm
Unfortunately, in my life experience I’ve observed that as cities grow and become more crowded and angry, the response to disaster- natural or man made-can be to many, an opportunity to take advantage of others’ misfortune. Things like looting and vandalism become the norm. Scam artists flock like ants to a picnic with the sole purpose of making promises of repair work, tree removal, anything that a desperate homeowner may be willing to turn over handfuls of cash for a hollow promise of good service.
You will find little pockets of neighborliness in your new home base, but nothing will ever match the love you experienced in the rural south. I have experienced both sides now, and my heart broke for you when you ripped your taproot out of the soul-soil from whence you grew.
Charlotte Rumore - June 4, 2022 4:07 pm
Beautifully written! Now that you’re in Alabama, you’ll see the same beautiful community during tornado season!
Priscilla Rodgers - June 4, 2022 4:23 pm
Linda Moon - June 4, 2022 5:07 pm
I’m glad you always got through hurricane season. I love it when people some together. Come see me any time you can….I give a dang. And I’ll smile on you, brother, while I’m giving.
Nelson Russell - June 4, 2022 5:09 pm
This is one of the best writing I’ve seen. Very true how neighbors come together in times of trouble
Suzanne Jackson - June 4, 2022 5:47 pm
One of your best!!!
janet - June 4, 2022 6:04 pm
In North Carolina, give us a good ice storm, or 2” of snow, and we literally all come out of the woodwork! Talking, sharing, waving, helping, laughing, hugging, feeding. We get hurricanes too, but 2” of snow will set the media into a frenzy! How would we ever survive?? I think that’s why we secretly wish for the big one! And are delighted with 2”.
angie5804 - June 4, 2022 6:26 pm
Just wait for the tornadoes, Seany!
Tracy Flanders - June 4, 2022 6:44 pm
I sure get what you are saying.💔
Karen - June 4, 2022 7:13 pm
Thank you for sharing the good side of bad hurricanes.
Connie - June 4, 2022 7:18 pm
Perfectly said, as only someone who has lived through several hurricanes can say it. Love and hugs. The season is here. Again.
AlaRedClayGirl - June 4, 2022 7:27 pm
Tornadoes and an occasional ice storm in North Alabama can bring people together like that as well. Really we should live like there is a hurricane or tornado on the way all the time. A smile and “can I help you?” would be really nice to see and hear everyday.
MAM - June 4, 2022 7:28 pm
Yes, but why does it take a crisis for everyone to get along for a short time? With God’s help, we can ALL get along ALL the time!
Ruth - June 4, 2022 7:50 pm
Hello from Pensacola. Your article is spot on.
TA - June 4, 2022 7:59 pm
Yes, yes, Amen to people caring about each other. It’s what I miss about hurricane season too after growing up in the bayou country of SE Louisiana. Too bad it usually takes misery to move us (as a people) to compassion these days.
Amy - June 4, 2022 9:04 pm
Linda Moon - June 4, 2022 9:06 pm
correction: when people COME together right now. I need some larger reading glasses…right now. Everybody get together, smile on your brother! And smile real big for me so I can see you.
Pam H Thompson - June 4, 2022 9:28 pm
Hey It’s tornado season in Birmingham. Same thing. People helping clean up the mess.
Sherry McKim - June 4, 2022 10:11 pm
Great article. Lived in Florida for 20 years and your description is spot on! Perhaps the whole world needs to be hit by a hurricane (at the very least Washington DC) so that all people can unite. Oh, maybe that’s the rapture……… : )
Kay - June 4, 2022 10:58 pm
Yes, I believe what you miss is the kindred (as in KIND) spirit humans muster when devastation occurs in and to the whole community. You will probably learn very soon about the TORNADO ALLEYS in Birmingham and how people come together to cry, mourn, and rebuild their lives after an F4 or 5 destroys a neighborhood, an entire town. And you won’t get much warning time to prepare for the event. But when meterologist Janes Spann takes off his blazer, rolls up his sleeves, exposing his suspenders, you know you’re in the midst of one of Nature’s dramas. You’ll want to stay for all five acts of the play.
Jennifer - June 4, 2022 11:09 pm
Don’t worry. You have tornado season here and you’ll see it again.
David S Doom - June 4, 2022 11:18 pm
Lander - June 4, 2022 11:42 pm
Well, there you have it, a reason and a time for us to care about each other. That’s a season we need about now.
Deb - June 4, 2022 11:44 pm
So true. I feel the same. Just doesn’t feel as lovable, caring. Unity is needed. Great article. You are such a good writer!
PMc - June 5, 2022 12:23 am
Sean what you just wrote about is Alabama during tornado season. Go talk to people in Tuscaloosa or Wetumpka or closer Fultondale after a tornado ripped their world apart. I am sure you will learn how many people actually gave a dang. Your heart will be amazed how far people will go for each other in the worst of times. I believe you will learn the good will always be good and the bad…well that is their burden to bear. Your column is always a delight and I so appreciate your heart to heart!
Peace and love from Birmingham 🙏🤗🦋
Valerie - June 5, 2022 1:06 am
Thank you for saying what a majority of us feel…
niobrarariverrat - June 5, 2022 11:08 am
Nailed it, Sean. Thanks.
Shannon Moore - June 5, 2022 1:50 pm
Now you live in tornado country, where we see the same acts of service you described. I’ve never seen humans come togehter as one to the extent that we did after the devastation of April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak. Despite the utter heartbreak of destroyed homes and loss of life, it was nice to see neighbors care about nothing more than helping one another.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - June 5, 2022 3:36 pm
Alice Grimes - June 5, 2022 4:32 pm
Sean, I miss that as well. You will still see a lot of that in Alabama but I don’t see anywhere near as much here in Texas even though this is a small town. Thanks for the reminder.
Sandra Jones - June 5, 2022 8:10 pm
So proud of kind people
Karen Hebert - June 6, 2022 12:31 pm
I lived in New Orleans the first 40 years of my life and now live near Birmingham. I remember the change in the air not only from the barometer but also the change in people as we prepared and than recovered from the big ones. Betsy, Camille and the like. The same happens here after tornadoes and snow events. You are so right, it would be wonderful if people cared about each other about the everyday things. Thanks for bringing back memories of the comradely not so much the devastation. Love your perspective.
Shelley G Miller - June 6, 2022 3:39 pm