Columns 2012

When storms can hurt you

In March 1962, a freak storm hit Absecon Island in New Jersey. Absecon Island is most famous for being the island on which Atlantic City is situated. But it also has three little bedroom communities that line its down beach area called Ventnor, Margate and Longport.

This storm was unlike anything seen on the island in a long, long time. Hurricanes were something that happened in the fall and islanders expected them. But March, while usually a little windy and cold, was not supposed to bring with it a storm that would flood the island, cause the Million Dollar Pier to be torn in half by a rogue barge and sink my school’s cafeteria under multiple feet of sand washed in from the beach.

I was a high school sophomore. I was old enough to understand how scary something like this storm could be in its potential to wreak havoc, and young enough to still believe that so long as my daddy was there, everything would be all right.

We had a sign that hung between the first and second story of my dad’s building. The first floor was our grocery store. The second floor was the apartment in which we lived. The sign was a heavy neon sign hanging from an iron bar proclaiming “Sereni’s Groceries”. I sat in a chair in our living room during the storm and watched as the wind blew that sign from perpendicular to horizontal as though it were made of nothing more than cardboard and held it there.

If I looked out the window to my right, I could see waves crashing on Atlantic Avenue, a street normally two blocks and a beach away from the ocean. If I looked left, I could see the bay creeping up on Arctic Avenue, a bay that was normally at least three blocks away.  My mother said that my father was so smart he’d picked the highest point on the island for his store so that we would not be flooded. My belief in my father’s invincibility was re-enforced.

I was never frightened during that storm. In fact, I think that storm led to my lifelong passion for storms and stormy nights. I love the sound of the wind and the beating of the rain on my window. I love it because I am as warm and safe now as I was then. My little dogs huddle against me, my birds grow quiet, the fireplace roars and we spend the evening in an almost enchanted atmosphere.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in a storm like that and have no place safe from which to watch its fury. But we have a large population here in Anchorage for whom that is reality. As winter once again approaches, this population runs greater and greater risks from storms, cold, wind and all the forces of the elements against which man has spent millennia building shelters and safe places. From the first caves to the first castles to the first fall out shelters, man has attempted to build bigger, better and stronger fortresses to keep nature at bay.

But the homeless have no such protection. So we will very soon be hearing pleas from shelters in the city to help so they can provide protection from the elements for this at risk population.

I know for some people this population represents a group they would just as soon ignore in the hope it will go away. They feel that people who don’t have homes should simply suck it up, get a job, get an income and rent a place to stay. Unfortunately this is not a problem so easily addressed. As Christ said in Mark, “You will always have the poor with you.” Even he knew that this was a problem with no quick solution.

So the next time we have a storm and you are sitting in your living room watching the trees blow and the rain or snow fall, remember that we have a lot of people for whom the approach of winter doesn’t mean cozy fires and warm beds.

Find out what your local shelter needs and donate your extras. Then enjoy your fireplace with a heart at peace knowing you’ve done your part to help others.