Hurricanes are terrifying, destructive, and tragic. They are also awesomely beautiful, as photographed from satellites or hurricane hunters' airplanes: those great raised angelic donuts and fringed spirals blotting out whole regions of mere earth. As the storm chasers of cable news shout to us from winds so high their jowls ripple, as meteorologists approvingly diagnose a tight and deadly eye as a "healthy hurricane," there's no mistaking the curious note of exhilaration. What's this? Sure, it's the media's usual ambulance- and ratings-chasing voyeurism, but there's something more. In the face of so much terror and loss, why do we love hurricanes?
Here's my theory: we love hurricanes because they're not us.
We feel shame when we watch scenes of destruction and carnage wrought by our own species, who should know better. No matter how we may distance ourselves from the perpetrators, they are human and we feel soiled and implicated. And we have to see such scenes every day. It's weirdly refreshing to face a destructive power that is pure, that's made of air and water instead of blood and shit, that has no motives and no choice, and that's SO MUCH BIGGER THAN WE ARE. Like a destructive toddler secretly relieved to be stopped by a godlike parent, we're appalled by our own power and grateful to have it dwarfed.
See also my review of Thomas Harris's Hannibal, which was originally titled "Why We Love Hannibal Lecter."
UPDATE, 9/25/04: I take it back. We don't love you. Enough. Stop. Go away. (I probably should be taken to the woodshed and forced to watch "The Day After Tomorrow.")
UP-UPDATE: You'd think I have nothing personal at stake in these hurricanes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Next year, it will be 50 years that my family will have had a house right on the Gulf of Mexico on Fort Myers Beach. It's the closest thing I have on earth to an unchanging childhood home, and more important, it's the cherishing environment in which my parents live three-fourths of the year, the main reason why they are healthy and active in their 80s.
This year, we didn't think we'd have a house left to celebrate. Charley roared right by and came ashore just north of us, at Punta Gorda. You saw what happened to Punta Gorda. (My parents were in Chicago.) Our damage was minor, but a few degrees of hurricane whim separated us from being smashed flat. Look at Fort Myers Beach (Estero Island) on a map: it has about as much substance as a milk mustache. You lives on a barrier island, you takes your chances.
A friend of mine has a mobile home over on the east coast, in Jensen Beach. Frances spared it, but Jeanne well may not.