Hurricanes of Life

          The month of September this year was an enormously eventful period for many of us. The cataclysmic fury of nature in the name of Ike was battering the physical landscapes from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to Canada when the financial markets found an opportune time to plummet. When thousands found their homes and dear possessions flooded or blown away by the wrath of a hurricane, the subtle comfort that many had from their hard-earned savings of life dwindled away from a barrage of economic disasters. If we were to carefully clump and chronicle a customized convention of calamities, it couldn’t conceivably surpass the anguish that many have experienced through these ordeals. After the events crawled over us, as the damaged elements are restored or catalogued into history, the remnants of fatigue will linger in our minds forever.
          This has been an unusually hectic year for the hurricanes, each with its own personality and temperament, behaving with an agenda only known to nature. Those of us living along the Gulf, are subconsciously attuned to the season of storms as we watch and follow them during their journey through the high seas. Weather channels constantly advise and hurricane trackers provide us with ongoing reports. Every season, we raid the grocery stores and clean up the shelves with items sufficient for a battalion, water bottles, canned foods, bread, eggs, batteries, flashlights, and the like. Windows are boarded up; loose objects are removed from the yards and all the hanging pieces are tightened and tied up. Many a time, we pack as many valuables that we can into our automobiles and hit the roads, often each family member driving a vehicle a piece. We rise early and take off, assuming to be wiser than everyone else to occupy the road ahead of them. Each time we end up with hundreds of others stranded with miles of vehicles edging ahead of us.
          Hurricane Ike started off big in the Atlantic, assaulting the islands of Haiti and Cuba. As it approached the US coast, there was hope that the warm air from the land may go into the sea to meet and persuade him to mellow, but Ike had plans of his own. He was relentless as his seven hundred miles colossal body roiled and whipped up angry waters and wind as he pounded into the Galveston Bay and Bolivar Peninsula. The ferocious force of the perimeters of its eye swept and agitated through massive areas of land, consumed many towns, cost many lives and many dollars of ruin. Its vicious winds thrashed and screamed along Texas and Louisiana, raked up miles of the gulf coastal line and churned angry tides along the shores of Alabama and Mississippi. Within a day, the behemoth of the storm had traveled through the entire nation and on to Canada, leaving behind dead and devastated people and billions in destruction.
          Miles and miles of land were swallowed up by the tides, townships of dwellings and buildings disappeared as a civilization in those parts succumbed to the war with nature. Mildew, mud, rust, and rot settled when the waters receded and the land began to emerge opening up the soaked scenery which may never again regain the status of habitability. There has been no power for weeks after the hurricane and normal life falters without power; no running water, no refrigerated food, no air conditioning, no television nor communication with the outside world. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of homes got filled with water, gradually creeping up and rising higher and higher, immersing all of the contents and climbing onto the second floors as most inhabitants fled while an occasional few crawled on to higher planes and perhaps even died.
         There were reports and stories of many coincidental episodes from the tentacles of the hurricane. The ecology may be hugely affected, excessive amounts of salt water ripping through the island barriers and soaking up the marshes, making it risky for the survival of the fish and vegetation, insects and mammals in a vast area which essentially needs fresh water. The migratory birds may not find their favorite mulberry trees and having to seek refuge somewhere else, misplaced and angry snakes and alligators taking on to unfamiliar territories and thousands of cattle wandering free having lost their grazing grounds. The loss of buffers from damaged landscapes may allow future storms unimpeded access deeper into the land. Burial grounds ripped up by gushing waters had caskets with dead bodies surfacing up and floating around. Thousands of acres of farming land and ranches will be affected and will become unproductive. Cruise ships had to be shifted and parked in areas of gulf not threatened by Ike, causing a ‘traffic jam’ of ships in the open sea.
        Almost parallel to Ike’s game plan, a sinister development was brewing in the American monetary institutions, perhaps with more intensity and ramifications disturbing the very fundamentals of this nation’s economy. The domino effect of the collapse was spilling over to devastate the pension funds, the job markets, the national productivity and service industries, even the remotest agencies and institutions feeling the impact and the entire standing of the once mighty United States in the global market being jeopardized. The scenario was timely as a tool and ripe as an opportunity for the political parties to claim the White House in January.
        The financial warfare is a story of human design, brought on by the corrupt, incompetence of leaders who disregarded the basic elements of responsibility in fulfilling their insatiable hunger to amass wealth. This country is blessed with exceedingly enormous resources, vast and fertile geographic land mass, the best of brains from universal input and perhaps the most efficient and hardworking people on earth. We enjoy amounts of comforts and luxury the rest of the world used to enviably admire and often detest out of jealousy. With sensible leadership, proper planning, and discreet guidance we had everything going in our favor to stay on top and help the rest of humanity. But we are fast losing that edge – if we already have not – because of indiscriminate policies coupled with misconceived perception about the rest of the world amounting to an egotistical philosophy. That is the ironic reason which landed us in the present deplorable predicament.
       Once the inevitable plunge happened and financial giants like banks and loaning institutions were closing, merging, or being swallowed by yesterday’s competition, the government and political leaders jumped into the runaway bandwagon to reverse its crash or at least arrest its momentum. As each of them groped to educate themselves with new knowledge and expertise to salvage their face and the security of their positions, many theories started surfacing. Somehow, they came up with an assumption that if tons of money is pumped into the market, perhaps they can revive the engine or apply the brakes.
       How did such a giant collapse? What were the ingredients which brought on such an appalling collapse of the mammoth monetary machinery? We are told that Wall Street and regulators had complex mathematical models to follow the amount of risk that is safely allowed. Since the perpetrators were obviously getting richer, there was no incentive to follow such guidelines or change their course until the bottom fell off. After much debate, on their second attempt, the majority in Congress decided to throw in a lifeline to the drowning market by pumping in a chunk of funds. The President eagerly signed a bill and heaved a sigh as if he has done his duty. As of this writing, the status continued to nosedive and there is no guessing of how and when the situation will stabilize and recover.
       Quite ironically and purely on a personal note, the same morning as the hurricane winds were pounding on us, I received news from India that my dearest physician friend of fifty-two years had succumbed in his fight against a deadly illness which consumed him only within three weeks from diagnosis. This was a man who loved life and loved others. He made an awesome presence in those around him by always being available to those who needed his help with never a hint of any demands in return. I had remained in constant contact with him once the diagnosis was made and as we silently accepted that his days were numbered. Slowly his sensorium slipped into layers of cloudy crevices as haziness replaced the clarity of his judgment and the basic functions of his organs came to a gradual halt.
       The news was agonizing to bear, hard to accept, yet the reality left no options. Perhaps Providence has a way of balancing its acts and often loves to play taunting games to tease us for a higher purpose. I felt that event was resolutely dumped on me just to throw me off focus and away from my perspective of the two other imposing ‘hurricanes’. As all my concentration stayed engrossed on my dear friend, as all my emotions drained from the terrible loss, the rest of the experience did not make much impact as they could have, at another juncture.
       What motivated and prompted me to write this, is a curiosity and humility of insight as to how little we are prepared to face unforeseen calamities of life which seem to pounce on us in spite of all the planning, the knowledge and technological advances that have endowed modern day living. As we are forced to face difficult times in life, they should also allow us, even enforce us to ponder and adapt to an attitude of total surrender to a power beyond our comprehension and control. It does not matter if such events are orchestrated with a higher purpose or happen at random by pure chance, but it will be desirable if they could shape our attitudes and influence our approach towards life in a pragmatic way so as to meet such adversities with better aplomb. (November 1, 2008)

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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