In August of 2005 I was set to begin my second and final year of graduate school. Days before the semester began I received a call from one of my professors. The department needed someone to teach a Small Group Communication course. Was I interested? I was certainly interested in a little more cash flow. I had not given much thought to collegiate teaching, but I dove in headfirst and took the class. About a week into that semester, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina battered my home state of Louisiana, and Louisiana has, in some ways, never been the same since.
My university did what many others in the northern part of the state did at that time: we shifted dramatically, overnight, suspending classes and turning colosseums and other nooks and crannies on campus into shelters for those fleeing the coast.
In the weeks that followed Katrina I learned lessons as a teacher I carry with me to this day. Countless people who fled Katrina never returned home. They had no home to which to return. They had nothing. Universities accepted students who had no papers, no transcripts they could present. Some had no ID. We were told to take them at their word, and we would sort out the details later. I had two Katrina refugees add my Small Group Communication course, and while I hope I taught them a few things, I learned a lot from them that semester.
On the heels of Hurricane Katrina was Hurricane Rita, a massive, deadly storm often described as the most intense hurricane ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico, though Rita may soon lose her title to Hurricane Laura. In all my years living in Louisiana, Rita is the hurricane I recall doing the most damage in the northern part of the state I call home. The aftermath of Katrina was so tragic and so politicized that Rita is sometimes forgotten, but she was a beast of a storm, a stronger storm, in fact, than Katrina.
I guess we should expect anything at this point in 2020, but I admit I’ve paid little attention to the weather forecasts the past week despite the potential threat of dueling hurricanes hurtling toward the coast. Storms weaken. They shift. They dissipate. You don’t live in Louisiana long before you realize there is no reason to panic every time a storm forms in the Gulf. It wasn’t until I began to see Hurricane Laura compared to Rita that I sat up and took notice.
The predictions worsened as today unfolded. I went about my day, dropping the kids off at school, teaching my classes, running errands, all with a growing but not unfamiliar knot in my stomach. My kids’ school has called off school tomorrow. The college where I teach has called off classes tomorrow. Gas stations are buzzing with people filling their cars and filling extra containers. My social media is filled with news updates and the thoughts, prayers, and warnings of concerned friends; the familiar words and phrases fill my screens: catastrophic, scary eye, storm surge, dangerous wind gusts.
Yesterday our local theater opened after being closed for nearly five months due to COVID. With a dearth of new releases to offer patrons, the theater is showing several older movies, and so my husband and I took the kids to see Jurassic Park, a movie that first thrilled us when we were young teens. Jurassic Park is the product of the work of many geniuses: Michael Crichton, Steven Spielberg, and the esteemed composer of the score, John Williams. The music always makes me cry. It is perfect. It says without words what I feel as I watch: creation is wonderful and mysterious, dinosaurs, like their Creator, are marvelous and fearsome, and man, as we know from Frankenstein and the inimitable Dr. Ian Malcolm, is a fool to insert himself in the role of Creator God.
Why am I sharing my recent movie experience with you? Because like dinosaurs, hurricanes remind us we are so small and powerless. Creator God made the heavens and the earth, and He controls the wind and the waves. It is one thing to recite verses, to tell children God controls the wind and the waves; it is quite another thing to sit in my home in Louisiana as the wind and the waves churn and swell as millions wait anxiously for Laura’s arrival.
I am not a fool; we are not under evacuation orders. We will see rain and wind, no doubt, but it will be a blunted version of what our coastal neighbors will soon face. My heart is heavy for my home state and for all in the path of this storm. I’ve been asked more than once why I live in Louisiana. There are certainly other states with more appealing climates and economies. The simple answer is: Louisiana is my home. My family is here. My history is here. My LSU Tigers are here. We swat mosquitoes, float bayous, boil crawfish, dodge hurricanes, elect pro-life Democrats, swelter in the humidity, and cross our fingers and toes when the Tigers go for it on fourth and short. I love Louisiana.
Pray for all those who call Louisiana home as well as our much-beloved neighbors in Texas.