When I was a kid I used to “root” for storms.
It seems kind of crazy now, but I distinctly remember watching the crawl at the bottom of the T.V. screen anytime a storm was coming, hoping it would head my way. Growing up in Tornado Alley, this happened frequently enough to make it a regular event. I would sit there watching T.G.I.F., hear the familiar alarm clock-esque warning screech, and quickly scan the list of affected areas. Somehow, when our county was included in the latest Flash Flood Alert or “T-Storm Warning,” it was a badge of honor
It’s hard to explain why I was so excited by this. I think part of it has to do with the idea that I liked the feeling of being safe amidst the chaos. That impulse says a great deal about some of the inherent perversity that comes with privilege. I grew up with an unquestioned assumption of security. Storms were little more than exciting shows that I could watch through the back window in complete safety. Natural disasters were a terror I was aware of, but also immune from. Scenes of flooding and damage on the local news were only narrowly distinguished from thrilling clips from a disaster movie. It’s one of those early mindsets born from the ignorance of your own advantages that makes you look back and shudder.
I can chalk a certain amount of it up to the naivety of youth. After all, I watched too many sitcoms to think that bad things happened to good kids. To the point, occasionally the tornado warnings were a bit more than just overly cautious municipal alarms. There were times when I would have to huddle in the bathroom with my family, surrounded by blankets, waiting for the all-clear as a twister tore through the area. It was always a little scary when the weather sirens went off. It was always a little nerve-wracking to be curled up in a small, windowless room with my parents and pets. But somehow, despite all of that, I always had some misguided faith that everything would be just fine.
Thankfully, it always was.
But a certain amount of that is nothing more than a particular “paper daredevil” mentality that, whether by genetics or conditioning, I was never able to truly shake. Growing up, my favorite bible story was always Noah’s Ark. Part of that came from being an animal lover, but part of it came from the thrill of the tale. Torrential downpours clamoring down from the clouds. Tidal waves, ravaging the world to wash it clean. Complete, total, and all-consuming chaos everywhere. And in the middle of it all, one man’s little boat, a safe haven amid the storm. That idea of personal security in the midst of external anarchy was all too appealing.
What is it about a person that makes them admire that kind of chaos, but only from afar? I recently talked about how the fall of society is an idea that’s both tremendous frightening and undeniable captivating. There’s a reason films like 2012 are made. The end of the world is a truly scary thought, but one that, at the same time, makes it hard to look away. Those stories provide the perfect combination of danger and security. They let us watch the awesome power of nature’s fury from the sequestered safety of our living rooms. They feed the paper daredevil in all of us.
And so, despite whatever rational prohibitions I place on myself, I’m secretly kind of excited to be a New York City resident on the eve of Hurricane Sandy. I enjoy the crazed bustle within the grocery store. I enjoy seeing the ever-growing list of closing schools and businesses. I enjoy the only half-joking Mayan Apocalypse statuses on Facebook. I enjoy seeing the denizens of the Eastern Seaboard exchanging worried comments about how much water is enough, where the closest evacuation point is, and what the worst of the storm is likely to be. I enjoy grabbing supplies and making preparations for whatever might hit us.
I am, after all, an Applecarter. In some ways, a hurricane is the Applecarter’s dream. For all our advancements in meteorology, we can only predict hurricanes so well. Tropical storms completely flip the script on standard operating procedure for entire swaths of the country. They send us all scurrying into a frenzy, afraid that we’ll be torn away from our toys and our creature comforts. Yes, it’s a little scary, but it’s also exhilarating. It’s the glorious, unpredictable unknown, knocking on our doorstep.
And yet, again, that is a horribly problematic impulse from a moral standpoint. I have been fortunate enough to live in relative safety and comfort my entire life. These big disasters are thrilling, but whatever minor or even major inconvenience I may face over the next few days, I’m all too insulated from the risks. That makes it shameful to take such pleasure in these moments. There’s people genuinely at risk — facing the prospect of losing their homes, their possessions, or their livelihoods, and all I can do is wait with baited breath for landfall. It’s embarrassing and perhaps even vulgar against the backdrop of real danger many are facing.
I don’t mean to pontificate. In some ways, this is a snow day, and for all the trouble it’s likely to cause, I would not deny anyone whatever joy they can wring from even the most misguided notion of “roughing it” as they hunker down and prepare for the storm. But at the same time it behooves us to at least consider the impulses we have that are born from the advantages we have in life, that we can only maintain because we’re safe from the consequences that would shake them.
Which is to say, that I can’t help but be excited about Hurricane Sandy. I know, in my heart of hearts that eventually I’m going to get cabin fever; that sooner or later, I’m going to be grumbling about the fact that the city has not gotten the subway up and running. More importantly, I know that the damage, be it economic, physical, or personal, is going to take a big toll, and that prospect ought to override whatever fits of anticipation I have. I still can’t shake that sense of excitement, the same one I felt when the local newscaster would call out my town on the tornado warning. But at least now I understand enough to feel guilty about it.