6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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Taking A Hard Alee--In the Path of a Tempest

“And if some god wrecks me again on the deep, I will
endure it, for I have a patient mind. I have suffered
already many troubles and hardships in battle and
tempest; this will be only one more.” – Homer, The Odyssey

This morning I found myself transfixed to the TV screen. Hurricane Katrina has been updated to a Category 5 storm and is now predicted to pass over New Orleans tomorrow afternoon. Last year, my two youngest brothers, who live on the central east coast of Florida, had to contend with Francis and Jeanne. At first it was thought they were going to take a direct hit, but the storms went in a little further south than had been predicted. Still the area of Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach received significant damage from high winds and flooding. My brother, Glen, still has a blue tarp on his roof, as he is still waiting for a licensed roofing contractor to do the work. Compared to the houses and businesses to the south of them, though, they were fortunate that they didn’t suffer a worst experience than they did.

When watching the TV, it is hard not to feel anxious about the in-depth reporting the news media provides. In light of the coverage on the war in Iraq, and other terrorist acts committed by Al Qaeda, I am convinced that the media’s eternal lacrimation of these kinds of events is indeed a sorry occupation. Unlike terrorist acts, though, the media does a much better job in its prediction of a hurricane, where it’s going, its intensity and size, and the impact the storm may have on people’s lives who live in communities that might be in its path. And as the storm progresses, the coverage becomes relentless in its analysis of the storm. News reporters create a context for what the potential of the storm might be, and then compare it to other storms in the past that were of equal intensity and followed a similar track. Their speculation, though, is quickly rephrased as a “But unlike. . .” “Unlike Camille,” for example, “ this storm is going to produce far more significant damage, especially if it comes in just southeast of New Orleans." From the map on TV, the storm appears as an angry red circle slowly meandering toward Louisiana. Looking at it you cannot help feeling fearful for the people who live there.

And then there’s the cutaway. Thousands of cars with thousands of people driving a slow march north at a pace slower than the hurricane that’s progressing toward them. A reporter gives a quick assessment of the catastrophe that’s about to befall upon the city of New Orleans. “The levees are only designed to withstand a category 3 storm. If Katrina comes in as a category 5, then the city could be under twenty feet of water by tomorrow evening.” And then the understatement. “The damage could be devastating.” Aside from the immediate impact that this storm is going to have on the people who live there, we are then told of the indirect impact it is going to have on the rest of us. “There are a significant number of oil platforms in that area of the Gulf, and a number of refineries just on the shore. A storm of this size could seriously disrupt production.” What’s that? As if three dollar a gallon gas weren’t enough, it seems as if the weather bureau has just given the oil industry its blessing to raise the price of gas to four dollars a gallon.

I turn the TV off. Its not only bad enough that we have Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists making our way of life difficult, but now we have this monster named Katrina to contend with. I shrug my shoulders, and grab Homer’s The Odyssey off my desk and head toward the kitchen. There’s nothing I can do about the storm anymore than I can do about the terrorists. It doesn’t do me any particular good to fuss about what’s not in my back yard just yet. I wish the people who live there well, and that they have sense enough to get out of harms way. At least with a hurricane, you know where the storm is going to hit before it actually does. The same cannot be said about Al Qaeda. All we do know is that that tempest is out there—waiting, lurking—but unlike any other storm, Al Qaeda can and will strike at will, and often times does so without any warning. Certainly New York, Madrid and London can attest to that. It will be a big step when our goverment can finally track their impending storms on our culture and way of life as well as the weather bureau does with a hurricane.

I make myself a lunch of Dr. Pepper and Triscuit crackers spread with peanut butter and topped with a slice of cheddar. Outside it is a pleasant 76 degrees with a light breeze coming off the ocean. After I finish with my lunch I take a stroll down on the shore, and find myself a rock to sit on for awhile. It’s a Sunday ritual of mine that helps cap the end of the week, and put things in perspective—a perfect prescription for meditation. The water stirs before me. I watch a cormorant dive continually under the water for its food, and reappear on the surface some distance from the point where it dove. A seagull flits above me making quite a fuss—as if I had taken its favorite spot. It lands on the rock twenty feet next to me. Like me it just sits there looking out across the bay. What thoughts it has as it contemplates its universe I do not know. What I do know are the islands across the way, the sun magically turning the surface of the water into a shimmer of diamonds, the solitary sailboat subdued in its easterly trek toward Isleboro.

Standing up, I take a hard alee from the doldrums and say a silent prayer. I give thanks for the joy of being able to live, regardless of how insignificant and illusive my life may be. That I live and feel alive, and have the good company of family and friends is all that really matters or is necessary. I head back up the road and turn for home.

BY S. L. Cunningham