Sarah and Zach tended a black pot of simmering meatball stew on the patio this evening as we endured the final moments of our tenure without electricity in Gustav’s aftermath. I wonder, in times like these,

“What good comes out of hurricanes?”

One silver lining in the tropical clouds is that storms, for the most part, bring out our most neighborly instincts as we all do our best to get through trying circumstances. My neighbor across the street, for example, just this afternoon pointed out how we never have much to say to one another until the lights go out. Then we visit, we share food and provisions, and we help one another with a communal spirit.

But another silver hue in the lining is the addition of family lore from each storm that spins its way through our lives. Our accumulation here on Hill Street is growing rich. Over the years,

  • we recall a fun day off watching TV show the wind blowing the cover off a boat shed along the coast while we enjoyed a breezy day off farther inland because Danny was a very wimpy storm, even though the eye passed right over our house several hours after the storm blew over that shed cover;
  • Then we recall baking cookies during Andrew in ’92 because Andrew veered right before he got to Eunice, a close call but missing us;
  • We recall the downright meanness of Lilli in ’03, bowling right over us with tornadic downbursts. Lilli was also the first tropical system that caused us to lose power, so we learned the regime of cooking out on the burner or the grill and sleeping spread-eagle on top of the sheets, praying for a breath of muggy air to puff through the widows flung open to the steamy, post-storm nights;
  • Then came the year of years, 05, as Katrina missed us far enough to the east to spare us any ill effect from the weather, but we put up the house full of family refugees who fled from that direction and found themselves homeless for almost two weeks;
  • And Grandma’s passing, which seems so inextricable from the Katrina saga in the aftermath of her evacuation from a nursing home during the storm;
  • Followed three weeks later by Katrina’s wicked sister Rita, who visited our side of the state and left us breathless during the overnight of her passing, even though we amazingly never lost electricity (I felt the same as Frances Scott Key “the morning after” when I saw the kitchen lights still on “at the twilight’s first gleaming,” even though our neighbors right across the alley were powerless for days after);
  • Lately, this year’s adventure with Gustav as we watched in budding suspense for days as the storm approached, watching our granddaughter with her mom flee to Arkansas with a friend to avoid the ordeal, preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, and ending up with something in the middle, mystified that even though the center of the storm passed over our house and was scary enough, our extended family 150-200 miles away in Southeast Louisiana are still without electricity whereas ours just came on this evening, not much more than 24 hours after the lights went out. Alas, hurricanes are filled with irony! That’s part of the lore, too.

We’ll talk about these storms for the rest of our lives. They’re kind of like little Beth-el’s in our lives, moments and times we sanctify and remember because God was there. In fact, I’m not surprised that God chose to speak to Job “in the voice of the whirlwind.” Whirlwinds tend to get our attention!