Lessons learned from storms of life

Published 9:31 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

The email from my brother was unexpected.

“ ’Chele, I just found some pictures of your house with the tree on it after Ivan. Do you want them or do you never want that image in your mind again?”

Of course, I wanted them. Four years later, the experience of waking from a dead sleep and insisting that we move to the hallway only minutes before a huge pine tree took out the bedroom wall is oddly surreal.

Terrifying is the only word to describe the hours between that crashing sound and dawn. A team of horses couldn’t have pulled me from that hallway, and I am still in awe of the people I know who went out during the storm to help others get to safety. I was certain that I’d need to crawl from beneath rubble if the storm ever passed.

When daylight came, we found that roughly half of our house was damaged and leaking; an ATV couldn’t have navigated our neighborhood, there were so many trees on the ground and in the street. But I could stand up and walk, and for that I am still grateful.

I remember the excitement in my husband’s voice when first he looked outside.

“They went the other way! Look at all the trees that went the other way!”

In the 10 days that followed, we learned that we really could live without electricity; that ice is a precious commodity; and that an old-fashioned perculator and a heat source are prized possessions.

Neighbors grilled together and dined outdoors where it was cooler. A few admitted they’d miss the camaraderie when the electricity finally was restored.

Ask me about that experience and I can speak without emotion. Persuade me to talk about my brother hauling building supplies from Opelika, about my then-68-year-old daddy logging in our yard, about both brothers being on the roof trying to get us dried in, about all the bags and bags of wet laundry and linens my mother hauled home to save us from mildew, about strangers who walked into our neighborhood with chainsaws and went to work, and I will choke on the tears.

It was the same after floods ravaged Elba in 1990 and in 1998. Those who survived those muddy waters together, rebuilt and lived to do it all again are like veterans of the same war, bonded in a way only those who were there can understand.

Isn’t it the same with all the storms we encounter in life? When storms, floods, illness or other trouble knock us down and humble us with our need for help?

Sometimes I think some Higher Power sends storms for just that reason: To remind us that in the big scheme of things, material goods are worthless, but that relationships are priceless.

In 2004, we thought Ivan was a bad boy; in 2005, Katrina showed us that his bluster could be topped. Hopefully, we learned the lessons so well that Gustav and Hanna and the two storms behind her won’t be directed here to teach us more.