During the weeks before Hurricane Florence came into focus, I noticed the increasing dread that news outlets, governmental leaders and Web denizens were feeling about the approaching catastrophe. Understandably so, it seems: The forecasts depicted something historic, beyond current imagination, and devastating to large sections of the country.
The warnings seemed to have taken hold. Millions of residents in the Carolinas—and elsewhere—heeded the warnings and left for safer settings. Locally and from around the country, first responders, repair crews and social service agencies geared up for a massive recovery effort that continues to be played out for months and years. Undeniably, thousands of lives have been saved because fear of the inevitable motivated people into action.
As the clock slowly ticked towards the hurricane’s landfall, I wondered how it might have felt for those in the path of this storm. They could see the weather reports, listen to political leaders’ warnings and recall their past experiences with storms. The foreboding must have been thick on their spirits, coating everything with apprehension. Because dread implies a dangerous future, their hopes for their well-being could have come to a complete halt. A wall of wind-driven water could have loomed larger in their imaginations than they could dispel.
That didn’t happen everywhere, though. One example among many: The good folks at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in the coastal village of Calabash, North Carolina continued their 63-year hurricane-related history, this time in the face of Florence-dread. They sheltered dozens of families in the church, offering food, laughter and song to local residents. They looked at the face of fear with time-tested faith and remained generous. Facing a seemingly inescapable disaster, they chose to remain true to their beliefs. They deflated dread. (See their story at https://www.today.com/video/north-carolina-church-has-taken-in-storm-evacuees-for-decades-1321271875588?v=railb&)
Stories like this one abound. They define the best of the human spirit, in this case the blessings of trust in God. Once the storm arrived and people took action, the dread was diminished. Facing actual circumstances, people found resolve, courage and capability. As difficult as the storm’s aftermath, reality somehow seems more manageable, possible, hopeful. Dread is supplanted by kindnesses, grace, gratitude and love of our neighbors.
Those of us who are older might also face dreaded/dreadful situations as a part of our everyday lives. Health diagnoses whose resolution seems overwhelming, the prospect of being destitute, the collapse of our struggling families, the likelihood of being alone later in life—these impending calamities can rise up to cover the rest of our lives with paralyzing fear. Living in suspense about an alarming future might crush our spirits, leaving us defeated before disastrous circumstances appear.
As stories from the Carolinas continue to emerge, though, we can see that dread is not the only emotion that comes with imminent tragedies. We can trust that God’s providence will show itself in other people’s kindness. Our lives will continue past dread, so that we can bless others-who-dread with our generosity.
The good folks in the Carolinas have somehow managed to deflate dread. So can the rest of us.