I don’t hate [the ocean]. I respect it. Respect. It’s Mother Nature at her finest—awesome, beautiful, impersonal, murderous. Think about it: All that water and you could still die of thirst. And the whole point of waves is to suck your feet from under you so that you drown faster. The ocean will swallow you whole and burp you out and not notice you were even there.
The ocean will kill you. It turns out that Mother Nature is a lousy mom.
—from Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon
Hurricane David struck the coast of Georgia soon after my family had moved to Savannah in 1979. I had just started 3rd grade, and we were living with my Aunt Kathryn and Uncle Frank and my toddler cousin, because my parents were still looking for a house for us.
The night the hurricane struck, a large live oak tree fell and crushed part of the roof of the house. So, we children were roused from sleep by our parents and transported to our grandparents’ house in another part of town. I remember returning to my aunt and uncle’s house—probably not even two full days later—and being amazed by the calm and sunshine… and by the extensive destruction around their yard and house. All was eventually repaired and restored (they had the necessary resources, after all), but the damage was impressive, still.
More hurricanes would threaten, and strike, in the years that followed, and after David our family always evacuated. (The most memorable was my brother and parents’ evacuation to Macon during my first semester of college, on the weekend that was supposed to be my first visit home. I was heartbroken for a while!) Just last year, my mother came to our Maryland home to escape the threat of Hurricane Irma.
But also, occasionally we would drive down to the beach on Tybee Island before a storm hit, just to watch the wild, angry surf. It was both captivating and threatening—an intense experience of being drawn toward something and wanting to run from it, all at once.
I love the beach—the smell of the salty air, the sounds of waves crashing, the infinite possibilities beyond the distant horizon. But the ocean scares me, too. Like the character in Yoon’s book, I am humbled by Mother Nature’s powerful finery—“awesome, beautiful, impersonal, murderous”. Respectful fear.
Hurricane Florence threatens as I write. Driving to and from Prince George’s County on I-95 today, I saw a caravan of large power company trucks traveling south, and a higher-than-typical number of North Carolina and Virginia license plates traveling north.
Mother Nature will do what she will do, without regard to our wishes (she’s “a lousy mom”, after all). And so, my prayer is that everyone in her path will have adequate respect and fear, making wise choices about their own and others’ safety… and that elected officials and other decision-makers will use their power to protect the most vulnerable among us. May it be so.