The Eye of the Storm

We spent the weekend battling a hurricane.

The Ogre keeps correcting me and insisting that it’s a “tropical storm” and that we’re not exactly battling it seeing as it’s over 100 miles north of us. I keep pointing out the window and saying, “Um, hello? Do you see the sheets of rain flying parallel to the ground outside our house? It’s a hurricane, and it’s freaking on top of us, because why else would the rain be defying gravity?” And then he starts trying to show me color-coded radars that make no sense (because actually I haven’t even figured out where we’re living on a map of Florida) and I revert to maturely responding, “Your mom’s a tropical storm.” He loves being married to me.

But this has been a long weekend, actually. Hurricane season officially started at the beginning of June, and I was kind of excited earlier in the week to get a sneak preview of what we could expect this summer. Hurricanes are unfamiliar territory for me. I grew up in tornado alley, and I can tell when a tornado is coming by looking at the sky for 1.3 seconds, hearing the eerie quiet that precedes one, or even just stepping outside and feeling the prickly, uncomfortable, hair-raising “storm’s a-comin’” sensation. I like to think I know a decent amount about tornadoes, or at least how to behave when one is coming. But I didn’t realize until this weekend how much I depend on tornado sirens. See, here in Florida, they actually do have tornadoes. No one told me this, and no one seems to talk about it much or even be all that concerned about it, but tropical storms and hurricanes throw off tornadoes on the mainland. So while we’re certainly not at any risk from Debby, no fewer than 12 tornadoes touched down in the state of Florida over the weekend, two within 20 miles of us.

Twelve. That’s 12. Ten plus two, people. That’s not an insignificant number of tornadoes. And there are no sirens. Once I realized this, I indignantly Googled, “Why are there no tornado sirens in Florida?” and Google told me that it’s because 1) it’s expensive and 2) most tornadoes in Florida are insignificant F1 or F2 tornadoes that only cause minor damage.

Let me show you something:

Yesterday morning in Naples

 

Yeah, I know it’s just a funnel cloud, it’s not touching down, and it honestly isn’t even that big, but it is alarmingly close to the only Trader Joe’s in Florida. The potential for catastrophe there is overwhelming, and not just for me personally. I’m telling you, the octogenarians who populate this state LOVE Trader Joe’s. They drive for hours to get here. The hotels near the new Trader Joe’s have nearly doubled their weekend business since the store opened. Do you know what would also be expensive? Having to re-populate the state with a population not made up of wealthy retirees who left in droves after Trader Joe’s was destroyed because “tornado sirens were too expensive.”

Also, F1 and F2 tornadoes can kill people. It’s not terribly likely, but it does happen, and when it happens it’s almost always at night, and almost always because the person was sleeping and unaware of the looming storm.

The combination of knowing that there were no sirens and being under a tornado watch was not conducive to restful nights in our house. On Saturday night, the tornado danger had largely passed by the time the Ogre went to bed, so I felt comfortable leaving the kids in their beds. But last night the tornado watch was extended until 5 am this morning. I walked outside around 11 pm, and the weather was freaky. Random gusts of wind interspersed with dead calm, loud insects that would suddenly go quiet, fast-moving clouds, and a general electric feel to the air did not reassure me that the storm warnings were precautionary. I told the Ogre that I wasn’t comfortable with the kids in their own rooms on the other side of the house. He said that if a tornado hit, we’d have enough time to get to them, but I insisted that we wouldn’t. Not without sirens. We likely wouldn’t even wake up until it was right on top of us, and their beds are right next to windows. I wasn’t about to chance flying glass, so we put the kids in a pile of blankets and pillows on our floor.

The Ogre slept okay, but I didn’t. Even having the kids in the room with us wasn’t enough to bring me peace of mind. The curtains on the lanai kept slamming into the windows from the force of the wind, the glass shook, the wind howled, and I alternately tossed and turned and prowled the house, squinting out the windows, trying to see funnel clouds in the blank, black sky.

At some point my sleeplessness became less about the storm and more about me. I’m in my own kind of storm right now, a tempest of uncertainty, doubt, guilt, and avoidance, all brought on by sin. Unlike the State of Florida, though, God didn’t think that warning sirens were too expensive. There were signs, roadblocks, bright flashing freaking neon arrows saying, “Turn back, kid, this road is treacherous!” And like I’m wont to do I mis-read them, misinterpreted them, downplayed the danger, and finally just closed my eyes and ignored them all. And now I’m squinting at the sky, waiting for the funnel cloud to drop and finish me off once and for all, instead of just turning around and saying, I give up, God. Help me.

I could have just gone to sleep last night. All my lurking and window-haunting and weather-checking probably wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference in the end, if a tornado had hit us. Being awake enough to hear it coming might have given us a two-second advantage, but even then, it’s not like we have a cellar to retreat to. We could have moved all of ten feet from the bedroom to the bathroom and perhaps escaped flying glass, but even that’s not certain. We were at the mercy of the storm.

Isn’t it always that way in life? I mean, we have choices, and those choices do matter, but by and large life just happens. Mostly our choices involve how we react to it. I tend to retreat, to duck and cover, to throw my hands up and declare that even making the simple choice to ride out the storm is too much for me. I don’t stand up to life’s storms with anything like bravery or perseverance. I try to hide first, and then spend all my energy looking out the windows, waiting in terror for the worst to happen. No trust. No faith. Just fear, and flight.

It’s exhausting. I’m tired. I’m actually, physically tired from being up all night for no other purpose than to be afraid. But I’m emotionally and spiritually tired, too. Tired of running, tired of hiding, tired of spending my nights waiting anxiously for a fate worse than death instead of having the humility to let go and the faith to trust that God will forgive me, and keep me safe from the storm.

Maybe it’s exhaustion that will finally break me. Maybe I’m just exhausted enough to drag myself to the confessional and lay it all out. Or maybe I’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and feel marginally better tomorrow, and things won’t look so bleak. Maybe I’ll fool myself into thinking that I can handle it on my own, that it’s not so bad, and that things will work themselves out.

But alas, the storm that had begun to let up this morning has kicked back into gear outside, and we’re under another tornado watch. I’m starting to think that God is going to keep me trapped inside a giant pathetic fallacy until I give up…in which case, sooner is definitely better than later. I miss seeing the sun shine.

  • Steven Mc.

    Should read, “nearly indispensable”. This is what I get for leaving that comment from my phone right before I go to sleep.

    • calahalexander

      Hahahaha. I like “nearly insensible” myself.

  • Mamie

    Please, I enjoyed your blog and all the comments, but what is Trader Joe’s?

    • calahalexander

      Oh, Mamie! Trader Joe’s is a miracle of a grocery store. They have them in abundance on the west coast, in some areas on the east coast, and are sloooowly filling in the more populated areas of the rest of the country. I don’t know how to describe it if you haven’t been there but…it’s magical.

  • Jenny

    I’ll third the weather radio. They are programmable so they will only go off if you get certain warning if that’s all you want. And they aren’t terribly expensive–$25 and you’ll never lose sleep again waiting on a tornado to hit you.

  • Mary

    I just want you to know that TJ’s is opening a store in Sarasota. My friend is moving there next month as her husband will be manager. So hopefully this will help you sleep. ;)

    • calahalexander

      LOVE. If ours is destroyed I’ll be making the drive.

  • Harlemite

    What a wonderful find! You gave this Harlemite (now living in Stockholm, Sweden (long story that shouldn’t be explained on someone’s blog)) plenty to smile about over coffee. Hurricanes and tornadoes are pretty unlikely in Sweden (there’s my understatement of the day).

    Anywho, I certainly plan on catching up with your other writings now, as well as sharing your blog with others on FB. Good stuff!

    God bless.

    PS I hope you made it to confession. It really is good for the soul. :)

    • calahalexander

      Sweden! Jealous. All I long for in life is cool weather. Thanks for reading! (And I want to hear the story about how you ended up in Sweden!)


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