Profound apologies to my brother.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that I wrote of hating him for basking in 70-something sunshine in Texas while hapless Hoosiers were shoveling through several inches of snow and preparing for sub-zero temperatures.
Mere days after my outburst, the Lone Star State was slammed with a massive storm of historic proportions. My brother lost power and had to carry water into the house from the rain-collection tanks. One minute he was a happy 21st-century man, popping a pod into the Keurig and binge-watching Netflix, and the next he was Pa in “Little House on the Prairie.”
It’s not that I tempted fate and called the wrath of the weather gods down on him. It was just a slightly exaggerated form of the taunting we usually do — he fake-sympathizes with me in winter, and I return the favor when he’s sweltering in August.
It’s more like it turned out that I was preemptively rubbing salt in his wounds. I could have made him feel worse about his predicament only if I were, say, a nationally famous U.S. senator who sneaked off to Mexico while his constituents huddled in shivering misery.
(Speaking of which, I can name a politician or two in Indiana for whom, if they expressed a desire to flee to Mexico, I would gladly buy the tickets, if they promised not to come back in the spring.)
What has been happening in Indiana, as challenging as it might seem, is just normal winter. Mother Nature is being typically fickle, and — dare I use such a currently politically charged word? — divisive. She goes along day after day being agreeable, even pleasant, then turns on us.
What hit Texas was once-in-a-generation, life-altering, wrath-of-God weather. It was the kind of event that turns your world upside down and lives forever in the stories you tell your grandchildren. The tornado that destroys a block, the tsunami that takes out a village. Being in the path of a flood or a forest fire.
For me, and for all Hoosiers old enough to have been here at the time, such an event was the Blizzard of ’78.
I was living in Michigan City, and my friend Mike, the city editor of the paper we worked for, and I drove to South Bend to watch a Notre Dame basketball game. On the way home afterward, one of us remarked, “Boy, this snow is getting heavy.”
Yeah, well. The next day I got up and saw that our city had virtually disappeared, sucked into a raging vortex of white fury. My wife and I lived just a few blocks from the newspaper office, so we decided to walk there, the only mode of transportation possible.
If memory serves, it took us almost an hour to walk those few blocks. We kept getting turned around in the blowing snow, and most of the time we weren’t even exactly sure where we were. It is sobering now to think we might have died in that storm, just a few hundred feet from the newspaper office.
I remember that days afterward, we walked in awe down the middle of a once-busy street, with snow on both sides stacked up above our heads. If felt like being at the bottom of a deep canyon on an alien, frozen planet.
Living through something like that is, or at least should be, a humbling experience.
We can get so puffed up with self-righteous indignation about our own superiority and the moral failings of weaker mortals. We need to remind ourselves occasionally — or at least pay attention when the universe reminds us — that we are all fragile creatures often at the mercy of an indifferent environment.
“We’re all in this together” is not just a COVID-19 cliché. It is a sobering and humbling fact.