Thoughts: The Calm Before the Storm


My son left his apartment in Florida today, a day or two ahead of Hurricane Irma. 

Initially, he readied himself to ride out the storm. He was doing the right things, loading up with supplies, moving things away from windows, looking for a safe place to store his car.  In the end though, as the storm grew and grew, he decided I am glad he chose to head north, away from the storm. I’ve been through a couple of hurricanes in my sixty one years, but they were diminished by landfall and time, nothing like this raw category storm wreaking havoc on the islands south of Florida as I write this. It was a wise choice. Probably wiser than I would have made at his age. 
I have been thinking a lot about storms this week, and about the phrase “Calm before the storm”.  I have been thinking about that time, knowing that the storm is coming, that it was inevitable, and that time just before, the knowing. 

I am not just talking physical storms here, though certainly my thoughts drift southward this morning. I am talking about the storms of life, ruptured relationships, jobs lost, illness, divorce and the other things that creep up on us and then explode in a cataclysmic bout of destruction. 

We see them coming. Sometimes we flee. Sometimes we stand tall. Sometimes we freeze as the storm approaches. 

When I was younger, I was a “plunge into the adventure” kind of guy when it came to physical storms. Youth? Stupidity? I am not sure which. It was not courage, because I had the sense of invincibility that comes with youth. “Ride out the storm!” would have been my motto back then. That began to temper in 1986, when Roanoke, Virginia, my home at the time, was hit by a major flood. I was on one side of the city and my wife was on the other side. Every way I tried to cross was flooded. I saw floodwaters sweep away cars. I saw homes and businesses buried in water. I was, for the first time in a storm, afraid. 

It didn’t cure me completely, but it taught me that sometimes running into the swirl of the storm wasn’t always the wisest thing. Maybe at times, it was better to watch them at a distance, from a safe place. I was near forty when I learned that lesson. I am glad that both of my kids learned it in their college years. I am happy that my son is riding northward ahead of the hurricane. Wiser than me on that front. Ahead of the curve. 

When it came to relational storms. I was something else. I tended to freeze. Therapy has taught me why, and helped me, to some extent, understand why. Childhood stuff (isnt’ it always?).   From a young age I could see the storm of anger rise. I would know it was coming, and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

At that age, as a child, I probably was helpless, but that paralyzed reaction became my way of dealing with, or maybe not dealing with, the approaching storms in my life. I could see them coming. But I was unable to act, unable to prepare, unable to do the things that might have lessened the storms. I locked up. 

I still fight that, but I have become better. Learning where it came from, why the feeling was so strong, and techniques to battle it have helped me. Mostly what has helped me though is time, and the recognition that I have survived nearly all the things I thought would destroy me. I have lost a marriage. I have lost people I love. I have lost important relationships. I have weathered withering anger and rage. I have had people try to publicly and privately defile me. I have had my vulnerabilities betrayed. 

I have, in other words, lived a normal life. And I have survived. 

I can remember when I bought my second house, in Troutville, Virginia. It was old. Built in 1792. A bit run down (OK, maybe a little more than a bit.), but the bones were good. I remember thinking, soon after we moved in, a raging thunderstorm coming down off the mountains. Limbs were breaking off the trees. The front yard flooded, turning into a river.  It was a wild one. 

But I wasn’t worried. I remember thinking, “This house has survived 200 years of storms. It will survive that.” 

And that is how I feel. I’ve survived a lot. I will survive the next storm. And the next one. 

I won’t lie. When confronted with a coming storm, my first tendency is always to freeze. Always. I’ll never get rid of that feeling. Things instilled in us as small kids rarely leave us completely. But I have finally come to the place where I neither fight nor flee. I let that moment, that feeling wash over me, like grass in the wind, and then, realizing I am still standing, deal with it. 

As I have aged (I am 62 at this point), I have become able to enjoy the quiet before the storm. To not live in that place with fear, but to allow that time to be a time of peace and rest and spiritual preparation. To be grateful for it. To let it work for me. To be able to make choices, to understand when to flee or fight or just ride it out. 

My kids are ahead of me in learning that lesson. They got there, as I did, the hard way. Probably a harder way than I did. But at the same time, they have learned the lesson better than me and I am glad for that. 

Just as I am glad my son is on I-95 somewhere, heading far away from the storm. 

Be well. Travel wisely, 

Tom 

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