A mandatory evacuation is an eerie thing. A half-empty town watches the sky in wary wonder. Old-timers break out stories from the last Big One, pointing to the ghosts of what was damaged, who was spared. Then—home in the rearview mirror—there’s the interstate evacuation route itself: with lanes reversed and exits closed, apocalyptic films come inescapably to mind. The spinning emergency lights blocking off-ramps every mile, the cars passing far across the median in your same direction—away, away, away from the coast—all speak disaster under a clear blue sky.
My husband and I leave for Atlanta. Once we've done what we can to prepare, it's the uncertainty itself that drives us out. Eventually we leave because we can, because we were told to, because we have somewhere to go, because we refuse to become a burden on our community if the worst case comes to be. We leave at night, the highway empty, if only to have the decision finally made; we fall into bed at my parents' house at 2 A.M., evacuees.
Then we watch; try not to watch; hunch over our screens; talk about other things, all while the hurricane inches its way toward someone's home. The absurdly-named Cone of Uncertainty widens, maps and models invade my dreams, and the storm rolls on, dreadful, magnificent. I hear in the forecasters' voices how they hate, respect, how they cannot help but admire such a powerful, mesmerizing creature. I admire her, too. I'm not a good evacuee.
The storm slows. Wide, willful, inevitable, elegant as the moon; she is almost hypnotic, almost convincing us she could linger in place forever if she wished—each hour eluding our guesses at what city she stalks. My mother prays the hurricane will reverse itself, inexplicably, back out to sea. I only pray that no one dies.
Is my request less absurd than hers? She prays for one enormous miracle while I ask a miracle for every one of the hundred thousand left behind. Without a miracle, someone stubborn, or someone convinced the storm is fake news, or most likely, just someone poor—someone left behind all their life—will be the storm's sacrifice.
People say terrible things; they imply the ones who stay deserve to die. I can't help but think they mean it. The poor have always been considered expendable.
The slow crawl inland has cost the storm its hurricane status by the time a band of showers spirals lazily over Atlanta. Meanwhile, someone in South Carolina helplessly watches a deluge destroy their life. Drops of the Atlantic fall outside my parents' window, and I wonder why God shouldn’t be on the ocean's side. After decades of pollution, shouldn't the ocean spit her worst right back at us, reduce our proud, pretending cities to trash? Few of us ever loved the ocean like we claimed. We use the ocean. And as atmospheric warming slowly warps her currents, it seems only just that she should thwart our attempts to predict her movements, that ever more of us should be forced to scurry out from under her widening, worsening swats.
It might be a little sociopathic to think of God this way. And anyway, we are not supposed to attribute any single weather event to climate change. We are supposed to be thankful to be alive. I am not a good evacuee.
Today we learned that our city was spared; tomorrow we will march home in a line of ants required to report to work on Monday. We will tell our neighbors how thankful we are without being sure who, exactly, we're thankful to. We will send checks to the cities who lost this round as penance for our survival; we do not name the vague hope they will reciprocate when some other storm crushes us.
We will carry on with the fall in a rhythm that's become familiar, and this storm will become just another landmark for telling old stories from the last four years: floods, Matthew, Irma, Florence.
We will not whisper that climate change may be pushing hurricanes farther north, nor that building too enthusiastically in coastal cities can increase flood damages. We will forget last week's predictions that the summer's storm-soaked soil could leave the rain with nowhere to go but into homes that have never flooded before. We will refer to the past with words like "unprecedented" as if they intimated nothing about the future. We will use words like “flood victims” as if they did not beg the question of perpetrators.
After all, it would be in poor taste to assign blame for an act of God.
Lyndsey Medford is the Director of Discipleship at Two Rivers Church in Charleston, SC. On her days off, she's usually in her garden, baking something yummy, or at the beach with her husband and rescue pup. Lyndsey writes about bodies, justice, and Christianity at lyndseymedford.com; she's also been featured at Altarwork, 100 Days in Appalachia, and others.
While you're here take a peek at Birdsong.
Lyndsey, this was powerful, raw and insightful. Thank you for sharing.
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September 24, 2018
It’s an honor, Madeline!