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Get to Your “Safe Spot”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Something I didn’t know before I moved to Nashville in 1996 is that part of living in the crossroads of the eastern-half of the U.S. is that it’s also a crossroads for weather—which means severe weather, especially in the spring when cold air is still pushing down from the north, but warm air is pushing up from the south. Where do those two volatile forces meet? Usually right over Middle Tennessee.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 48 hours, you’ve heard about the storms that wreaked devastation throughout the Southeast this weekend (mainly Mississippi—we’ve heard from all of our Mississippi relatives, and they’re safe). Most of us who live in Nashville, who’ve been through several major tornado events, spent the day near the TV and/or radio keeping up with the weather. I decided that I’ve lived in “Dixie Tornado Alley” long enough when I can take one look at the radar and tell you exactly where there’s possibility of rotation just by how the storm bands bulge and curl and by the colorations in them before the meteorologists put the symbols up on them.

On April 16, 1998, Nashville gained the distinction of the first major city in more than twenty years to have an F2 or larger tornado hit the downtown area. I happened to be working in downtown at the time at the newspaper and spent about an hour that afternoon down in the basement (near the printing preses, in fact). There was minor damage to our building, but major damage farther into downtown. When the storm crossed the Cumberland river into East Nashville, it gathered force and hit as an F3, demolishing homes and continuing to race eastward, where more damage was done at The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson.

I’m no novice to storms. We got doozies in New Mexico and Baton Rouge; in fact, I rode out Hurricane Andrew in Baton Rouge in 1992 after watching it nearly destroy Dade County, Florida, four or five days before. But the 1998 Nashville Tornado Outbreak was my first true exposure to being in the path of tornadic storms. I was so happy I was at work when it happened—in a huge, solid building—and not alone.

Ever since then, whenever severe weather is forecast, I try to stay near a TV, radio, or internet-capable computer so I can keep abreast of the weather situation. In fact, I well remember spending quite some time on Super Tuesday in 2008 in my “safe spot” (the small hallway in the center of my house with the doors to the bedrooms and bathroom closed) switching back and forth between the primary returns on my favorite cable news channel and the storm tracking on my favorite local news channel. (Memphis and Jackson, TN, were both hit hard by those storms—we had severe thunderstorms and lots of straight-line wind damage here in Nashville.)

One thing that’s heard over and over during these storm tracking bacchanalia on TV (which you really don’t want to hear) is: “Get to your safe spot.” What that means is that there’s a very good chance that you’re about to be hit by a tornado.

Well, because Saturday was the Country Music Marathon, the forecast for severe weather led the local news for several days leading up to it. So, I was prepared. By the time I got home from my writing group meeting Saturday around noon, I knew what I needed to do: make sure my cell phone and laptop were fully charged (and that all files I might need were on the laptop), get my MP3/radio device out of the car and make sure I had new batteries standing by, cook anything I might need/want to eat before the major storm-cell hit, etc. And, after spending the early afternoon watching what the storm was doing in Mississippi, I was glad I’d prepared ahead of time.

As it turned out, my preparations were unnecessary, as the storm dissipated somewhat before it got to Middle Tennessee—and then only sideswiped the northwest corner of Nashville (though we got plenty of wind and rain all over the area). But it made me start thinking about “safe spots.”

Those of us who live in areas of the country where we experience recurring natural disasters—like tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes—know, or should know, where our “safe spot” is during the storm. In a tornado, it’s in a sturdy building (not a vehicle or mobile home) in the lowest/most central area, away from windows. In a hurricane that’s a Cat 3 or above, it’s somewhere inland, away from direct landfall. In an earthquake, it’s a doorway or under something sturdy.

But what about in life? Where’s our “safe spot” in life?

My cousin, who just celebrated her twentieth wedding anniversary last month, is in the process of moving from Washington back to Louisiana (her husband’s in the Coast Guard). They’d put their house on the market, but weren’t getting results. So they decided to rent it out. But before finalizing the contract, they called and talked to her father. She joked that it was because she needed “affirmation” from her father that they were doing the right thing, but then later mentioned that it was nice to be able to turn to someone who’s lived longer and experienced more when making a decision like that. That was her “safe spot” in the storm of uncertainty over a decision.

When I received the representation contract from my agent, the first thing I did was scan it and e-mail it to my father, then get on the phone with him to go over it line by line—just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything or getting in over my head. In fact, I turn to my parents quite a bit when big decisions—or big problems—arise.

It sounds trite to say that we’re supposed to turn to God as our safe spot in the storms of life. But for those of us who live by faith, it’s knowing that we can turn to God, to let Him shelter us from the storms when no one else can.

But no matter how scary the storms are when they’re happening, we cannot let them turn us into phobics who never leave our safe spots—imagine someone so terrified of tornadoes that they never left their closet or safe room, even on the sunniest of days. It’s good to have that place of safety, of comfort, to run to when things look dire. But we can’t stay there all the time. Nor should we have to be constantly reminded to go to that safe spot when danger is imminent. We should be paying attention, watching for the signs, keeping track of the radar, and know when it’s time to seek refuge.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it this way:
Be still sad heart and cease repining;
Behind the clouds the sun is shining,
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life a little rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

  1. Monday, April 26, 2010 12:43 pm

    Wow. Very well said, Kaye. If you haven’t submitted this for publication as a devotional you should probably do it. 🙂


  2. Monday, April 26, 2010 2:15 pm

    Jason’s right. You’ve got a great devo there. When crises occur in my family, I want to tell my parents. I may not tell anybody else, but just knowing that there’s SOMEBODY that knows what’s going on, that we can talk to, helps. Even when we spend LOTS of time in prayer, and we know that we can tell GOD anything, it DOES help to talk to somebody “with skin on,” as the story goes.

    But more than that – are we prepared to get to that “safe spot?” I liked that you went through the tasks completed before it got to the point of needing to reach that position of safety in a weather crisis. We should all have steps to complete, whether it be in a weather situation or a situation where life is pushing us toward that “safe spot,” before that time of need gets here.

    Thanks, Kaye.


  3. Monday, April 26, 2010 3:54 pm

    I needed this today, thank you.


  4. Tuesday, April 27, 2010 6:50 am

    Well said, Kaye! I don’t think it sounds trite to say that God is our safespot, though. I think it sounds just right:-)


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