Crystalline blue skies rimmed with neon tangerine stretched across the Gulf of Mexico as my husband and I soaked in a late September sunset.
“Look.” Bob waved his right hand from west to east and back again, emphasizing the vast expanse of sun and sky. Steady winds from the northwest burnished our faces and fanned the fronds on palm trees that fringed this nearly deserted stretch of sugar-sand beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. “No clouds.”
Except to the southeast.
There, a lone nimbostratus hugged the horizon, signaling rain somewhere—many miles of somewhere. Many miles away. Mesmerized, I pondered its palette. Was the sky brushed with dusty peach? Or dolloped with salmon mouse? Its froth, though, belied the torrents clutched within it. Slowly, its glow pixelated into a heartbeat of horror.
The stunning skyscape was none other than the outermost fringes of Ian, the hurricane we had just outrun.
Our home in Fort Myers lay 400 miles to the southeast, as the seagull flies. We had left there a mere 48 hours before this glorious sunset. Earlier in the day, heading west on I-10, we had watched dark swarms of camouflaged National Guard troops and gleaming hordes of white utility trucks stream into Florida.
They reminded me of leaving New Orleans post-Katrina. Seventeen years ago, we had sheltered for two days with friends 40 miles north of the city. When we left there and headed west to Houston, we faced similarly silent headwinds of convoys.
It, too, was a crystal blue day. That’s the irony of a hurricane. Its path of destruction is determined by the clear, dry clockwise winds of high pressure. Sometimes, the current sheers the tops off the soggy low-pressure vortex, sapping it of strength. At other times, though, that same high pressure parks the counterclockwise cyclone over warm water, enabling it to suck every bit of moisture from hundreds of miles around. Stalled and unsated, the tempest grows and blows, following the edge of high pressure. Engorged and enraged, it resembles a monster whose arms reach north and east from a vicious cyclops.
Its devastating wake—like a sneering apology—is replete with sunny skies.
From this beach, Ian was serene and beautiful. Yet from a distant beach along this same body of water, horror rained. And reigned. I thought again of Katrina.
We evacuated New Orleans, just as we evacuated Fort Myers. But Our Florida neighborhood dodged Ian’s wrath. Not so with Katrina. She took our home, our possessions, our sense of security. But not our dignity, pride, or sense of survival. She opened doors to new careers, new friends, new opportunities. Blessings.
Blessings? Yes. As I stood in twilight on the shores of the two-faced Gulf of Mexico, I remembered that Katrina means catharsis, purified. Ian means God is gracious, good. Disasters and blessings are the yin and yang of existence. They epitomize the Taoist concept that opposite forces are interconnected, that the seed of good is embedded in evil, and the seed of evil is embedded in good.
So, with a nod to Joni Mitchell, I have looked at clouds from both sides now. From near and far. From win and lose. From up and down. And still somehow, it’s not life’s illusions I recall. It’s gratitude.