Like many of my peers in Atlanta, I just dodged a little bit of a weather bullet. Our pal, Hurricane Irma – conveniently scheduled for September 11 in order to maximize my low-grade, lingering disaster anxiety – came to town, bringing heavy rain, winds, and lots and lots of power outages. I was very fortunate that I was not affected one iota as dramatically as many of the victims who bore the brunt of the storm, but hanging out in a house with two small children and listening to the news tell you how scary everything is outside your window does count as a certain level of “impacted.” After three days of no school, constant news monitoring, and carrying a flashlight with me to pee in case the power went out, I decided that the scary part was over, and we just needed to get out of the house. Out to lunch. Out to somewhere. Out. So, like any proper suburbanite, I got the in car and rolled out to the nearest fast food joint with a decent indoor playground.
We dodged a few downed limbs getting there, but when we rolled in to the much-revered house of chicken nugget purveyance, it actually looked a lot like the typical weekday lunch rush. Three polo-shirt-clad business men shared a booth, each on the phone with other people. A set of parents with small children cut up chicken nuggets with the side of plastic fork. Two women chatted with one another, keeping one eye on their kids in the glassed-in playground, and offered an occasional head shake either across the table or to their children when they were climbing something they shouldn’t be. As we sat down at our table with our food, I overhead a man obliviously talking at top volume on his phone. “LOT OF LIMBS DOWN!,” he said, “BETTER CALL THE INSURANCE COMPANY!” Then he ended with something that struck me: “If you just need to get out of the house, you should come down here.”
Although I was in what some people might think of as suburban hell, filled with screaming children, potentially obnoxious phone conversations, and artery-clogging fast foods, this man was suggesting that this was a good place to be. He was inviting people to join him.
And I agreed.
Sitting there, I personally felt more relieved than I had in the three days since the news reports started. What I really needed to comfort me after the bustle and jostle of the storm was the bustle and jostle of other people. I didn’t just need to get out of the house, I needed to go sit and be part of a community. Kids seem to inherently understand this. You “need” to get them out of the house because they not only want new surroundings, they need the stimulus of other people. Adults sometimes don’t acknowledge it as readily, but we need it, too. I needed to be out, elbow deep in ketchup smears with screaming babies in my ears. I needed the village.
Clean up from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is going to be long, painful, and expensive, and I encourage you to support those efforts however you can. (I personally sent money to a charity exclusively devoted to buying people clean underpants. True story.) However, there is one special wish I am sending out to the humans who need it most after these storms: May you find yourself smack dab in the middle of a community. May it make you feel much, much better during everything you’re going through. And, may it be filled with crying babies and ketchup smears and everything else you need for it to feel like home.
Hi. I'm Amanda Dobbs.