Mother Nature – The Great Equalizer is an Equal Opportunity Offender

If life has taught me anything, it has taught me that events are viewed by the willing or unwilling participants caught up in the event itself – whatever that event may be, or however it unfolds – you see, natural disasters humble even the most arrogant.

Cat 1 Hurricane Sandy left its indelible mark on this homeowner's castle – their house – as 94 mph winds and an intense storm surge ripped this house in half.

Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re affluent, middle class, or of modest means; if you earned a college degree, or are a blue-collar worker; if you’re employed full time or part time, underemployed or unemployed; a homeowner, an estate owner or renter; mass transit user or not; male or female; young or old; a majority or minority, etc. Mother Nature sees, but more important – treats everyone the same. Everyone, and everything is on her level playing field, playing by her rules . . . and her rules alone.

Sadly, as witnessed in the recent case of “Super Storm” Hurricane Sandy, it didn’t matter to survivors if her wind speed was 94 mph – or 200 mph. You see, when loved ones are lost, belongings destroyed, and normal life is changed – statistics mean nada.

A house so oppulent that it was named "Merry Mansion" wasn't so merry after Cat 5 Hurricane Camille's 200 mph winds and 30-foot storm surge made landfall and destroyed this once beautiful structure. Photo: Chauncey Hinman

Back on August 17, 1969, the “Storm of the Century,” Hurricane Camille, made landfall in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was this Category 5 Hurricane which claimed over 100 lives, had top wind speeds of over 200 mph, and a storm surge over 30 feet high.

Weather events which fit certain criteria are given the title of “hurricane” in order to separate and elevate it from normal weather patterns. But, that title isn’t enough. So, in addition to the title, these weather events are also given names, ie: Sandy, Camille, Katrina, Andrew, Ike, Ivan, etc. But, the title and name isn’t enough when faced with extreme weather. That’s when modifiers are added; hence “Super Storm” Sandy, “Frankenstorm” Sandy, “Storm of the Century” Camille. That’s when it’s serious. That’s when we have to sit up and take notice.

So, when storms of that magnitude devastate everything in it’s path, can society mend long-term with the after effects?

In conjunction with the passage of time, what are the historic mechanisms we as people gravitate toward in order to solemnly remember horrors in a symbolic, meaningful gesture?

What gesture helps humankind understand an event through gentler eyes in order to begin to mend its shattered soul?

It took 32 years, but on August 17, 2001 a black granite monument etched with the names of Camille’s 131 dead and 41 missing was unveiled. Although there are other memorials dedicated to Hurricane Camille, Elizabeth Veglia’s vision is the only one which honors the victims from all three coastal counties.

Names etched in granite is a solemn, respectful way to personalize a memorial, yes – but Elizabeth Veglia personalized further. In this gesture, she didn’t want to rely upon an inscribed description of the event in order to understand the painful memorial. One look and you know exactly what tragic destiny befell these normal, everyday people.

Mosaic artist Elizabeth Veglia creates a powerful memorial from the ruins of Hurricane Camille.

Today’s clearer eyes see the awesome profile of the hurricane which Veglia masterfully depicted in a mosaic made from pieces of glass, pottery and an assortment of other ceramics recovered from the debris field.

I don’t know if climate change is happening, I don’t know if the North American continent is on the short list of calamities yet to unfold. I don’t know what calamities await the rest of the world, but what I do know for sure: There will be many more gestures to help society mend its shattered soul because Mother Nature doesn’t have gentle eyes.

Leave a Reply