28 August 2012

The Hurricane

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? 

This afternoon I looked at a television screen depicting the oncoming wrath of Hurricane Isaac, about to make landfall on New Orleans. The newscaster reported that the storm was in the area of two hundred miles across - its effects, far beyond even those reaches. I chuckled to myself as I considered that the drive I often take to Kentucky is scarcely longer than the width of this storm and that, on a nice day, I consider the same distance a kind of feat.

Seven years ago Katrina hit and I began my career in teaching. It is an anniversary that will stick with me because not long after the devastation, I had the chance to teach a young man who was a castaway from that hurricane and I remember him - though not his name - as being one who had grown up rather suddenly. He was altogether serious and quiet and not in the way a new student normally would be. It was clear he had seen some things that the rest of us had not. Shortly before he moved on, he handed me a plastic container filled with gumbo or something his mother had made as a parting gift. I wonder what became of him.

The academic year has begun with me regaling my junior boys with stories of primal cultures and their initiation rituals, those oft-bloody liturgies that forced the boy to become a man. When asked why we lack such undertakings in our own day, I responded that it is rare that one subdivision has to go to war with another over water rights or hunting grounds but that, nevertheless, initiation on some level still needs to occur. Otherwise, as Richard Rohr has pointed out, what we're left with are grown men milling about acting as eight-year-olds. He says in a particularly scandalous section of Adam's Return, many boys are "over-mothered and under-fathered."

An old colleague of mine who traveled with me this summer to the Gulf shore told me today he'd like to experience a hurricane firsthand because of some movie he saw as a child that featured such a storm. I told him, in shock, that he was a sick bastard, though this is not based on any lived experience of my own. It's based instead on the experiences of others who have endured hurricanes and barely lived to tell about it, standing against the remnants of their leveled homes. We like to pretend we have the wherewithal in these times, so long as it's all safely confined to the television screen.

Nature shrieks on, growls forward against a coast we've spent seven years building up. We pray and hope and hedge bets on the levees holding this time. The hurricane does not - make no mistake - give a fleeting care about our preparations. It does what it wills. The ancients were wise in this way: that like the animals around them, they fled to higher ground. They had no airs about their score with nature, and though nature successfully takes each one of us in the end, it is a modern marvel that we think we can somehow elude it if we stack enough dirt and buy enough equipment to stall it.

Deep calleth unto deep in the roar of the waters.

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