Upfront - Have No Fear, Hampton Roads Is Here!

Hurricane Irene taught us that the best antidote to anxiety is the blessing of community

By Michael Jon Khandelwal

When Hurricane Irene was bearing down on Hampton Roads this past August, I, like everyone else, prepared for the worst. When the storm was over the open sea and gaining strength, many of us seriously considered making a run for Roanoke. But, as it grew closer and seemed to weaken, we stayed put, hoping for the best.

As we assessed the aftermath of the storm, many of us were pleased with how the damage wasn’t as bad as we had expected, while others were hit hard by Mother Nature and lost power for days, all while dealing with great damage.

But on the whole, the storm wasn’t as devastating as Hurricane Isabelle was. In fact, my Ghent duplex in Norfolk never lost power. I took a cue from my experience during Isabelle and stocked the house with non-perishable food, as well as lanterns and games. During that storm, people came over because I still had gas, and we cooked together. We went to the Colley Cantina and drank warm beer.

After the rains ceased, we hung out on our front porches and laughed together. I met neighbors I hadn’t before. Guitars strummed down the street, and smoke from barbecues searing previously frozen meats and vegetables surrounded us.

Even during all the hardship that Isabelle brought, it was, in fact, a time of togetherness and great camaraderie. People helped each other out; we were kind. What a great example of our society— the most stressful times often bring out the best in people, not the worst. A lot of this, I believe, is because of the kind of communities we have here in Hampton Roads, where front porches and sidewalks dominate and neighbors actually know each other.

When I was living in Los Angeles during the riots in the early ’90s, the same thing happened. In the part of my neighborhood where no one knew each other, buildings burned. But on my street, we all got together, grilled out and protected the small corner store we all loved. Our street was safe because we were in it together.

Camaraderie also took over during Hurricane Irene this August. People visited each other before—and even during—the storm. Because I wanted to cook my frozen food in case I lost power, I had several attend an empty-the-freezer Italian buffet that night. We played games, and we got to know each other—and some neighbors—better.

But, because I was lucky enough to not lose power, I noticed something else, something I hadn’t during Isabelle, because I was powerless during that storm.

The television news was not helping. Neither was the internet.

On television, reporters were giving facts and updates about the storm. That was helpful. But there was something else going on, something beneath the surface. They were trying to scare me, flavoring their facts and updates with a dash of impending doom.

It’s become almost comical, the newest “storm of the century” and daily disasters highlighted with “alert” flashing large and red. But, while an actual storm was brewing, that kind of negative spin just inflamed everyone’s anxiety.

What happened to the phrase “remain calm”? I think I know. If we were to remain calm, we might turn off the television or log off the internet news site and talk to one another. Families might play Yahtzee. We might establish camaraderie or community or—heaven forbid—push away our fear.

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