Nobody says a word at first. Not because we can’t think of anything to say, but because we are strangers.

Hurricane Michael is making its way onto shore while I write this. Michael is 350 miles across, 90 miles in diameter, and very ugly. This is a storm that’s roughly the size of South Dakota, arriving on Floridian soil like an unwanted houseguest.

I am miles away, watching a television while this storm batters Franklin County, Gulf County, and Bay County.

The big TV in the corner of this restaurant is tuned to the Weather Channel. The joint is nearly empty, the lunch rush is over. A few people gather around the screen, arms crossed, eyes unblinking.

We are a varied lot of strangers.

There is a woman with her hand over her mouth, watching TV. Her name is Ellen. Her mother lives in Gulf County, and she can’t get a hold of her.

Gulf County is a war zone right now. The live-coverage proves this. And Ellen is a mess. The TV shows palm trees bending forward, 100-foot waves swallowing boardwalks, flooded highways.

Mexico Beach is devastated. Port Saint Joe is waterlogged. Apalachicola is covered.

Between reports of tribulational destruction, the TV rolls commercials which advertise: Metamucil, Capital One credit cards, chocolate-flavored laxatives, Quaker Oats, and how to get a good deal on a reverse mortgage.

But when the commercials are over, we who gather at the television remain silent while the monster makes landfall.

I recognize the places shown on TV. One reporter is perched only fifteen miles from my front yard. I can sympathize with Ellen, worrying about her mother. In fact, I have been sick about my own mother—who decided to stay behind and weather out the storm.

I texted my mother a few minutes ago.

She texted back: “The wind has gotten bad, we’ve moved to the back room, but we’re okay. I love you.”

Then, I texted my sister—who also stayed behind. She wrote: “I’m scared, please pray for us.”

So while I write this to you, my stomach is in knots. All I can do is watch the reporter on the Weather Channel.

My new friend, Ellen, keeps checking her phone. She sends text messages by the dozen. Her thumbs move a mile a minute. She waits for her phone to vibrate. She hopes her mother will respond.

Nothing.

“If I could only HEAR from her,” Ellen says. “If only I KNEW she was okay.”

“Maybe the cell towers are down,” one man offers.

“You know how these things go,” another says.

“Yeah,” Ellen says.

Yeah.

The TV shows Gulf County getting whooped by Mother Nature and it’s not pretty. Ellen looks like she’s cracking. The poor thing.

“I wish she’d CALL,” says Ellen.

And that’s when it happens.

One woman asks if Ellen wants to pray.

At first, this idea is met with silence. After all, she is a stranger, hailing from a different background. We are all strangers, with our own lives, and at least one of us suffers from severe body odor.

It’s not me—my mother taught me to carry Speed Stick in my glovebox. The offender is the older man seated to my left.

Ellen shrugs. “Pray? Guess I’ll do anything if it’ll help.”

I consider standing to leave, since Ellen’s business is none of mine. But I am unable to leave in time.

Soon, I am roped into joining a circle of people. We are holding hands. Ellen is sniffing her nose. And to tell you the truth, this feels pretty weird.

Nobody says a word at first. Not because we can’t think of anything to say, but because we are strangers.

One man breaks the silence.

“Lord,” he begins. “We pray for Ellen’s mother…”

And while he talks to Heaven, I’m thinking of my Mama’s trailer perched on Black Creek. I am thinking about my sister, her husband, and my niece with the flaxen hair.

I am thinking of my friends, my cousins, and my people on the Gulf Coast. I don’t know how this storm will pan out. Perhaps by the time you read this, it won’t be that bad. Maybe we will all have a good laugh about Hurricane Michael one day. I hope so.

But it doesn’t change the way I feel right now.

When we finish, things are awkward between strangers. We’re not exactly sure how to act now that we’ve committed a spiritual act together.

The TV continues to broadcast pictures of Northwest Florida, suffering from tornado-like winds.

Ellen’s phone makes a noise.

We all hear it vibrate. It’s loud. She answers. She covers her face.

She walks outside. Before she leaves, I hear her say: “Mom? Mom? Oh, Mom, thank God you’re okay.”

Yes.

That’s exactly who I was going to thank, too.

39 comments

  1. Karen Greatrix - October 11, 2018 5:46 am

    I’m glad you are safe and that Ellen’s mom is too. You all have many strangers praying for you.

    Reply
  2. Glenda Hulbert - October 11, 2018 6:23 am

    Really “Good One”, prayers going up.

    Reply
  3. GaryD - October 11, 2018 7:05 am

    In my part of South Georgia we didn’t get the predicted 100 mph wind. Maybe 40 is all we got. Sometimes I’m glad the clowns on The Weather Channel are wrong.

    Reply
    • Pamela McEachern - October 11, 2018 4:55 pm

      Send in the Clowns please. I appreciate them trying to keep us safe. Glad you and your’s are ok.

      Reply
  4. Beth - October 11, 2018 7:11 am

    Oh Sean I have had you and your family and many many strangers in my prayers and thoughts. How is it that no matter where you are on this planet we are all connected. We think of one person and then we think of their family and friends and the circle continues to widen.
    This is such a scary time for everyone, all those that have yet to see what Michael has done to their way of life, their homes, their lives. And yet we take one persons hand, then another and so yes you are strangers but really your connected by one common denominator…. A hurricane that is changing the lives of everyone in that room with you.
    I am so very happy that you got out!!!! Winds just 2 mph more and it would have been a Cat 5. and that is just demographics because that 2 mph is nothing compared to what is happening. It doesn’t matter if it is a 1 or a 5 the worry is the same, the people with you are in the same state of worry.
    Just keep in mind that every hand you take, every prayer you pray your connecting to something bigger than Michael. Your connecting to with someone that is as worried about someone just as you and every hand that connects to a living person that in a way that prayers will magnify HOPE….
    Hugs coming to you and to your family and friends and I pray that your home that you and Jamie have built is still standing when your able to return…. Hope is all we can offer and our prayers….. BIG HUGS AND LOTS OF PRAYERS HEADING YOUR WAY AND UP AND UP AND UP…… Beth Reed

    Reply
  5. Cathy Gilbert - October 11, 2018 7:32 am

    I pray all your people are okay. I’m up at 3:30 am waiting on Tropical Storm Michael. It will be nothing like what the FL panhandle got, but as a Hurricane Andrew survivor, it’s enough to make me sleepless.

    Love from Manning, SC
    Cathy

    PA: You should come see us. We have fabulous BBQ. Fried chicken too.

    Reply
  6. Debbie Phillips Hughett - October 11, 2018 8:38 am

    Please let us know how your family faired, when you have a minute.

    Debbie Phillips Hughett

    Reply
  7. Nancy - October 11, 2018 9:54 am

    So glad you’re safe! We’ve been for all the families in the path of Michael. I swear you have me blubbering like a baby and laughing at the same time. Keep us posted on your family please.

    Reply
  8. Terri C Boykin - October 11, 2018 10:09 am

    God is good. Love you much Sean.

    Reply
  9. Leslie in NC - October 11, 2018 10:13 am

    Yes, Sean, please keep us posted on your family and homes! I have friends in Mexico Beach who evacuated to central Florida and don’t know if their home will be there when they return…it won’t be via State Road 98 which runs along the coast…it’s gone in places. Family and friends in Tallahassee haven’t checked in yet and I pray everyone there is okay. I’m thankful that Pensacola, where my son lives, was spared the wrath of this storm! We are under a tropical storm warning here in the NC High Country today…Michael isn’t giving up easily! I think Beth said it best…we are all indeed connected.

    Reply
  10. Jean - October 11, 2018 10:25 am

    Sending hugs and prayers to you, your family and all those in the Gulf states.

    Reply
  11. Janie's Jottings - October 11, 2018 11:40 am

    Tears as I read this. My cousin’s son’s church had the roof taken off in Port St Joe. Family members in the small town of Cedar Springs Ga went thru what was their worst hurricane experience ever. But as far as I know they are all ok. I hope the same is true for your family and your home Sean.

    Reply
  12. Melanie - October 11, 2018 11:46 am

    ❤️

    Reply
  13. Wanda Corbin - October 11, 2018 12:01 pm

    We in Panama City have lost so much but I am so very thankful all my family is safe.

    Reply
  14. Karen - October 11, 2018 12:16 pm

    Prayer is powerful among friends or strangers. Ellen knows that now. ❤️

    Reply
  15. Dianne - October 11, 2018 12:34 pm

    God is good. Prayer is good and powerful. Prayer can bring people together in all types of situations, but with one goal that unites them all. I know this for certain! Prayers for your family!

    Reply
  16. Connie Havard Ryland - October 11, 2018 12:42 pm

    All of us here on the Gulf Coast know your pain and fear. I pray that your family is safe. I watched it too, and it was way east of us, but my heart is aching for what your area is going through. It was a monster storm. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  17. Sue - October 11, 2018 12:44 pm

    God is still in control through all this. Glad you are okay.

    Reply
  18. Phillip Saunders - October 11, 2018 12:52 pm

    Sean, youdaman! No, He’s the MAN! You are His servant. Let’s keep those prayers going for those in the path and especially for those behind the storm. And Beth, if you are not a minister, you should be one.

    Reply
  19. Sandra Smith - October 11, 2018 12:56 pm

    Prayers for ALL who suffered Michael, in any capacity.
    Prayers for son’s & daughter’s, who worried about Mama’s. Prayers for Mama’s, who worried about sons & daughters.
    Prayers for sister’s & brother’s, Aunt’s & Uncle’s, cousin’s and friend’s.
    Strangers prayers, except strangers who’ve been thru it, aren’t strangers…we are family.
    🙏❤🙏❤🙏

    Reply
  20. Linda in Texas - October 11, 2018 1:36 pm

    Praying for you, and everyone in Michael’s path.

    Reply
  21. Shelton Armour - October 11, 2018 1:54 pm

    Prayer is powerful. God bless you all. Prayers for your family going out.

    Reply
  22. Jeanne Butler - October 11, 2018 1:55 pm

    So awful. Can’t even begin to imagine. Prayers for everyone. Love

    Reply
  23. Pat - October 11, 2018 2:06 pm

    I feel so sorry for those who when they return home, find nothing…I was lucky enough (if I should even be using that word) to see the damage in Biloxi 2 weeks after Katrina. My friends house (brick, as all others were) which was on Back Bay, and the entire neighborhood, was flattened. Nothing stood perpendicular except trees. I was totally disoriented riding through the neighborhood as it was such a drastic change in the landscape. Be strong Florida and Georgia and know that many many people are praying for you!

    Reply
  24. that's jack - October 11, 2018 2:10 pm

    I guess Michael didn’t row the boat ashore this time he Roared it.

    Reply
  25. Summer H Hartzog - October 11, 2018 2:23 pm

    Prayers continue for your people and all who were and still are in Michael’s path. While Panhandle Florida is is a beloved fixture of Southern life – our personal slice of tropical paradise – it’s heart, home and livelihood to hundreds of thousands who are likely in a daze this morning. Panama City is my husband’s home town but we’ve lived in Montgomery for 35 years. We’ve heard from most of his family there. When I walked into my office this morning my eyes fell on a framed photo of our family standing by the ship propeller in front of Capt. Anderson’s. I hear it’s gone now. I cried my first tears for y’all and prayed another prayer. But I saw a long line of relief trucks heading your way on my drive to work this morning. Help is on the way. It will be a long time but things will get better. In the meantime, just keep doing what you do. Write about the good. People down your way need you. God bless you all.

    Reply
  26. Gloria Knight - October 11, 2018 2:35 pm

    I have family in deep South GA that I’m concerned about. Also many great memories of PC, Destin & Cape San Blas. Pray that everyone who stayed is safe. Homes can be rebuilt– people are more fragile.

    Reply
  27. Janet Mary Lee - October 11, 2018 2:43 pm

    I pray your family and friends are fine! My heart just aches for all those who are going through this. Lots of prayer have gone up for everyone since this thing hit the gulf. It is one of my favorite places on earth. My heart goes out to all those Blessed enough to live there, but are suffering such emotional and financial loss. Let us know about your family and friends…still praying…it is one of the best things on earth too!!

    Reply
  28. Gerald G Cox (@GeraCoArk) - October 11, 2018 2:47 pm

    Wow! Thank you. And you, too.

    Reply
  29. Jack Quanstrum - October 11, 2018 2:47 pm

    Praying for everyone!

    Reply
  30. Sally T. - October 11, 2018 2:52 pm

    Glad y’all are safe & sound!

    Reply
  31. JANE HUMPHREY - October 11, 2018 3:40 pm

    How beautiful….I am choking back tears at work right now, but I needed your words today. Thanks for sharing and i hope you and your family will all be Ok.

    Reply
  32. Gwen Monroe - October 11, 2018 5:10 pm

    I don’t even know what to say in instances like this. It’s so sad. My one and only granddaughter and sweet husband are on a cruise from Bahamas to Mexico for their honeymoon. These events keep you on your knees.

    Reply
  33. Bill T - October 11, 2018 6:29 pm

    Here in Fort Walton Beach we just got brushed. My only concern was electricity because my wife and I both use breathing assists. But we are OK and I just came in from cleaning up the yard and mowing the grass. Neighbors are doing/did theirs too. I was hoping the wind would be strong enough to blow the falling leaves on the elm in my front yard. Didn’t… Didn’t even blow over the 25 garbage cans the townhouse dwellers that are too lazy to get off the road at the end of the block.

    Reply
  34. Barbara Reynolds - October 11, 2018 8:57 pm

    I pray that your mother and sister are okay.

    Reply
  35. Minnie Bourque - October 11, 2018 8:58 pm

    Sean, please let us know how your place and more importantly, your family fared. I hope and pray all is well with your family and all families. The destruction on TV t;his morning horrific. I pray the number of lives lost is not terribly bad. Things can rebuilt; lives,not so much.
    Many prayers, hugs and good thoughts!
    Minnie

    Reply
  36. Bev - October 11, 2018 10:41 pm

    Sean, thank you for such a precious picture of how God is always active in our lives—when we think to stop and talk to Him. I also live on the Gulf Coast and this time the hurricane was not pointed straight at us. We, who were spared, are working hard to collect all the necessary supplies needed in the disaster are. We are all in this together— we are never alone.
    Thank you for sharing your heart with us!!

    Reply
  37. Lucretia - October 14, 2018 7:42 am

    Thank you, Sean, thank you.

    Reply
  38. Starla Redmon - October 14, 2018 12:25 pm

    Amen
    Our lost little coast Sean will never be the same. My sister has lived and raised her family there for 49 yrs. I spent as well as my children wonderful summers there. My niece did call and the beaches are beautiful again with lots of sand, that as a child, I thought to for ever to get to the water.

    Reply

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