Hurricane-Watch Thoughts

by Michael Potemra

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!” As for human beings and their animal companions, stay indoors and safe — and see whether Walker Percy’s “hurricane theory” is borne out in your experience. From an essay by Brett Yates:


At one point [in Percy’s 1966 novel The Last Gentleman], Will recalls a date with a girl named Midge Auchincloss. The date is a disaster until the two are caught in a hurricane. “Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case. Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes,” Percy writes. The hurricane, it turns out, saved the day: “The hurricane blew away the sad, noxious particles which befoul the sorrowful old Eastern sky and Midge no longer felt obliged to keep her face stiff. They were able to talk. It was best of all when the hurricane’s eye came with its so-called ominous stillness. It was not ominous. Everything was yellow and still and charged up with value.”

Percy has pointed out this strange phenomenon many times. In the first chapter of The Message in the Bottle, he asks, “Why do people often feel so bad in good environments that they prefer bad environments? . . . Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban Short Hills, New Jersey, on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon? Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?”


If you’re in a situation this weekend where “everything is yellow and still and charged up with value,” celebrate it with music (if the power’s out, use batteries). Depending on the gravity of the particular circumstances, I recommend Bach and Mozart. (Karl Barth: “It may be that when the angels go about their task of praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille, they play Mozart and that then too our dear Lord listens with special pleasure.”) As for me and my cat, I think it will be Bach, though Category 4 or above might have us invoking Mozart, as an act of smiling respect and defiance.