“I’ve lived through a lot of storm-tossed nights. But they can prompt productive reflection on what matters most.”

From a Wall Street Journal column by Danny Heitman headlined “The Long Night of Hurricane Ida”:

Baton Rouge, La.

As Hurricane Betsy tore through Louisiana in 1965, my mother held me in her arms and rocked me through the night. I was an infant with an ear infection, and as raging rain and the late hour kept us from getting medical help, Mama did what she could to comfort me in the long stretch before daylight. While the winds howled and I howled louder, the woman who had given me life a year before rocked and prayed.

I have no memory of that ordeal, but my mother told me the story often as a way to say, without quite spelling it out, that even the darkest night can be endured. Mama died in 2008, but I think of her every time a hurricane rolls over my home in Baton Rouge, as on Sunday when Hurricane Ida arrived.

Hurricanes are scary, and they are even scarier when they approach after dark. I always feel a pit in my stomach when the neighborhood transformers surrender to the gusts and the streets plunge into cast-iron gloom.

Keeping anxious vigil, all a seasoned veteran of hurricanes can do is listen as the storm whips one tree after another. Facing that fright in darkness makes it worse. In those moments, I usually feel deeply alone, even within the folds of family. Ida’s arrival on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina only deepened the desolation. Like many Louisianians, I recall the date of Katrina’s landfall—Aug. 29, 2005—as vividly as 9/11.

But as Ida rattled our windows and snapped nearby branches Sunday night, I also thought about the writer Loren Eiseley, who observed that in the depths of a trying night, a wakeful soul can find strength that otherwise might go undiscovered.

“At night one has to sustain reality without help,” he wrote. “One has to hear lest hearing be lost, see lest sight not return to follow moonbeams across the floor, touch lest the sense of objects vanish. Oh, sleeping, soundlessly sleeping ones, do you ever think who knits your universe together safely from one day’s memory to the next?”

As a lifelong resident of Louisiana, I’ve lived through a lot of storm-tossed nights, and they are never easy. Even so, they can prompt painful but productive reflection on what matters most.

Those priorities seemed clear enough as my wife and I greeted the dawn with health, safety and an intact house. Tree limbs littered the lawn, and the power was out, but we had weathered Ida. Our good fortune will enable us to help others who didn’t fare so well.

Louisiana’s long night of suffering isn’t really over, though with prayer and resolve, we’ll get through. My dear mother, were she still around, would tell me this is true.

Danny Heitman, editor of Phi Kappa Phi’s Forum magazine, is also a columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate.


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