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.