Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
— Lao Tzu
I think most of us are familiar with the old axiom asserting “the only constant in life is change.” Whether we choose to define it as good or bad, life is always changing, and clinging desperately to the circumstances we enjoy in “good” times doesn’t serve us any better than refusing to consider our suffering in the “bad” will eventually pass.
Tragedy and loss are never fun or desirable — let’s just be honest — but it takes nothing away from the harsh reality of life’s suffering to also acknowledge the most magnificent flowers often bloom from decay and despair. Nevertheless, we all struggle to accept life’s annoying little setbacks, as well as the major storms that sweep through and turn everything upside down.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the devastating storm that made landfall along the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, tragically taking more than 1,800 lives, I find myself thinking about the enormity of its impact and the countless ways it changed countless lives.
My loved ones and I were very fortunate to safely survive the storm without bodily harm or major property damage. Nevertheless, in the weeks following the storm, I found myself stumbling through the wreckage of a 25-year friendship that had blossomed into a three-year marriage, before crashing and burning in the wake of the storm.
To be fair, my first marriage had been going downhill for months before Katrina, thanks to thoughtless and immature behavior on both our parts. We had already initiated a trial separation in the hopes a little space could help us sort through our differences, but the time away only seemed to push us farther apart. We briefly reunited in the days before the storm, wanting to keep each other safe through the impending crisis, but our hopeful reunion would be brief.
As a young couple still trying to find our way, we were already under enormous stress, financial and otherwise. When my husband’s job on the Causeway literally washed away in the storm, he cracked under the added pressure of sudden unemployment and decided to quit trying. He told me he’d changed his mind about working on our marriage and left me with a broken heart and a yard full of broken tree limbs.
As I sifted through the emotional rubble that remained after Katrina, at first I felt like things would never be okay again. Little did I know the enormous pain of my divorce would ultimately allow me to be available months later when I stumbled across my destiny.
Meanwhile, about an hour’s drive away in a small Mississippi town I’d never stepped foot in, the handsome stranger who would soon steal my heart was dealing with his own post-Katrina devastation. On Aug. 29, 2005, Scott lost his home and almost everything he owned to a small tornado spawned by the massive storm as it ripped its way through Mississippi. In the blink of an eye he found himself homeless and stripped of most of the possessions he’d managed to accumulate throughout his life.
At first he was stunned and devastated, but over time he came to realize the storm that had taken so much away from him had also provided him a chance to start over with some of the choices he regretted.
He was able to use his insurance proceeds to buy himself out of his mortgage in a town that no longer felt like home, so he could move to Mobile, as he’d always wanted. It was in Mobile he would meet the woman of his dreams (so he says), who just happened to be newly single.
And we lived happily ever after. Well okay, we’ve certainly had our ups and downs along the way, but coming up on 10 years now, we’re pretty damn crazy about each other. It’s funny how things turn out sometimes.
Countless others found their lives suddenly upended after Katrina, often with bittersweet tales of loss and survival and finding hope again. One such tale belongs to lovely Mobilian Cherie Warren Jennings, who had been living in New Orleans for nine years when Katrina turned her life upside down.
Cherie, now a technical support team leader for a telecom company here in Mobile, loved working in the French Quarter and planned on spending the rest of her life in her beloved New Orleans. As Katrina approached she was initially reluctant to evacuate and went out dancing in the French Quarter the night before the storm made landfall.
A friend ultimately convinced her and her roommate to leave the city, insisting New Orleans would “fill like a fish bowl.” Cherie left home with a load of dirty laundry, her cat, guitar, violin, laptop and the corset she’d just bought for her 35th birthday. She would arrive at her father’s house early the next morning and by the following day receive the news that she was homeless and her beloved city had flooded.
Cherie spent the months that followed drinking away her sorrows in downtown Mobile, where she would meet Randy Jennings, the handsome bartender who would soon steal her heart. All these years later they are still in love and happily married. Cherie’s bittersweet memories of the storm reflect both an appreciation for new opportunity as well as a wistful dream of a city that is no more.
“If Katrina had never happened I would never have met the man of my dreams. I would not have this lovely house, or this lovely life. I lost so much. I lost friends, and now pre-Katrina New Orleans is a dream-like place [to which] I can never return. Like the yellow brick road I can walk down again …”