Like much of the nation, I have been following the hurricane news. My daughter was in Wilmington, , NC, on Monday and Tuesday so I followed it in part to keep her informed. As one of her friends remarked to me, “Not exactly the time to be visiting the beaches of Carolina.”
No. Not really. But Miz Shelby is home now. Safe from the storm.
Still, I have a host of friends who live along coastal Carolinas whose well-being I am greatly concerned about.
I was in NOLA a few months after Katrina. I had been invited there by the commander at Fort Jackson. The National Guard provided me with a personal tour of the damage done. I will never forget the devastation, or the stories shared. One young soldier said that he had just returned from a tour in Afghanistan and that nothing he saw there compared to the horror of Katrina.
A girlfriend sent me a note from my hometown this week: “I was thinking of that time you were here with us during the hurricane and helped volunteer. The Civic Center is taking evacuees again.” My hometown of Columbus, Ga, is a generous-hearted place, full of people who pull one another through hard times. The overall message of the novels I wrote is about community and how it can be a healing place.
Community was on my mind when I read a story about the wild Mustangs of the Carolina’s Outer Banks. The horses don’t evacuate during hurricanes. They are wild, remember? Of course horses aren’t the only ones left to ride things out. Personal pets may be carted to safety, but wildlife are left to figure it out for themselves.
The Spanish mustangs have developed a trick for survival, said a spokesman for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, which manages the herd. The horses head for higher ground, find an ancient oak to gather under and huddle together, “butts to the wind.” This particular herding instinct has enabled the wild horses to survive for over 500 years, noted the spokesman.
Butts to the wind.
That’s what it’s been alike around here for the past week or two.
Yesterday, I sat with a woman whose husband is dying and asked her, “Do you feel like you have community here?”
That woman is my mother-in-law. For the bulk of their lives, when they weren’t on the mission field, my in-laws lived in Eastern Oregon. When my father-in-law was diagnosed with congestive heart failure they moved to the west side of the state, to be nearer to family and better hospitals. That was some four years ago. It’s been a difficult transition for the man I call The Missionary.
As my friend The Redhead once said to me, “Dying is boring.” She died of breast cancer in 2009. I am not over her death yet. I don’t suppose I ever will be.
Over the past week alone, a friend lost her nephew to suicide, a girlfriend lost her son, another a lover to a fast-growing cancer, a writer friend died leaving a world of beloved readers and writers behind, not to mention her children and grandbabies.
And then came the text alerting family that the patriarch that has prayed us all to Jesus has taken a turn.
It’s like waiting for a hurricane, this preparing for the worst to come.
Some deaths, like that of my friend’s nephew, come upon us so quickly there is no time to gather under the oaks. The best we can do is offer to help in the wake of such devastation. Other deaths, like that of my girlfriend’s love, do provide advance notice so one can at least attempt to prepare.
In each and every case, however, whether the death is totally unexpected or long-anticipated, the thing we all need is community.
We need people who will ride out the storm with us.
We need people we can huddle with.
We need people in our lives who will help us to safety.
We need people who love us and with whom we have an established trust.
We need people who have ridden out such storms before to advise us on how best to handle this one.
Every single one of us needs to know that when the hurricane hits, we will be surrounded by those willing to run to higher ground with us, to stand alongside us, flanking us, providing us with strong shelter.
Find your herd. Hunker together. Life can be frighteningly wild at times. Do not try and go it alone. Seek out higher ground. Cling to the ancient oak. Do not be carried along by the howling. Stand your ground. Butts to the wind, everyone, butts to the wind.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY (Mercer University Press).