A stillness emanates from the river that helps me calm my nerves and focus my excitement on fishing a new reach. Before dawn, the movement of insects and animals are limited, and most critters remain at rest. A mist lingers a foot or two above the water surface like a blanket that, once lifted, will allow the river to start its day. My presence and movements are the only things interrupting the quiet. I wade slowly, with relaxed movements, and my casts feel softer and more precise as I seek to match the quiet atmosphere around me. A staccato call of a belted kingfisher breaks the silence as the efficient hunter glides past me through the thinning mist. As if a switch had been thrown, the sun rises over the tree tops and burns off the slight fog, and the life around the river begins to stir.
Moments of stillness and calm feel fleeting these days. I associate these restful moments with early mornings and late evenings when others are at rest and the world seems to slow. I try to soak in these times to be self reflective, to feel gratitude about my blessings, and to be thoughtful, thinking of things to improve, explore, or reevaluate. Sometimes I can carry the feelings through my morning dog walks, or they help me drift off to sleep. More often than not, my mind jumps into inventorying my to-do lists or scheduling scenarios, and the stress of life steps in.
School will be starting for my children this week after over a year of virtual schooling. Our traveling and scheduling is about to increase significantly. There has been lots of back to school shopping, adding events to our schedules, setting up computers, and organizing work spaces to prepare for the school year. There is a combination of excitement and uncertainty about the new year, with new challenges and opportunities presented and the chance to socialize with old friends and to make new ones. As most of the preparation was completed before Friday, this weekend felt like the calm before the storm.
Yesterday as that thought ran through my head, a reminder from the Weather Channel popped up on my phone. Hurricane Ida was advancing towards Louisiana and Mississippi, sixteen years to the day from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I suddenly felt self absorbed and small minded. As I was mentally preparing myself for my kids going back to school, millions of people are facing a potentially deadly and destructive hurricane. My phone notification led me to a video of Jim Cantore, who himself is a pure indicator of hurricane season, describing the anticipated impacts from the storm. His first sentence described how it was a beautiful night in New Orleans and in the truest sense of the aphorism, he stated it was “the calm before the storm”.
The phrase “the calm before the storm” describes a period of tranquility that precedes a difficult time. It is attributed to first occurring over 400 years ago in the play The Dumb Knight written by Lewis Machin and Gervase Markham. It has become an often used saying describing the moments before a stressful event.
Preparation for going back to school is nothing compared to the strain and danger of an imminent hurricane. However, in those calm moments before stress we often have our clearest thoughts, and our deepest values emerge. Thoughts enter our minds and the calm allows our hearts and intellect to find commonality in answers to hard questions:
- How will I make it through this?
- How will I take care of my loved ones?
- What did I get myself into?
- What actions or inactions led me here?
- What is it I need?
- What is it I want?
When the storm makes landfall, actions and decisions take over to preserve our lives and property. We all need to survive. Our day to day lives are obviously not as harrowing as dangerous storms, but we get lost in the “doing” of life and surviving through our to-do lists. We lose sight of the thoughts we discovered in our calm before the day. The lessons to learn in life are often connected to our values and desires to make our lives fulfilling.
Unfortunately as more extreme weather events occur more frequently, more people will be forced to face unimaginable challenges. These tragedies give us the chance to see things more deeply and look harder into our values. How can we help each other to prepare for these moments?
We should try to hold onto the vision we have in the calm before the storm and carry it with us to our actions after the storm has passed. This can be a lesson for the strongest storm or for the stressful school day.
I am sending prayers and positive energy to the people impacted by Hurricane Ida.