Storms are Stories

by Lou Solomon, dated August 29, 2011

Watching the coverage of Irene stomping up the East Coast this past weekend, I noticed several interviews with locals

and old-timers who told stories about all the storms they had survived.  They began talking about Irene—but inevitably they slipped into stories about the others:   Floyd, Bertha, Fran, Bonnie, Hanna and more.  Each storm was a story.  This one pushed the flood water over the bridge; that one caused two weeks of blackouts; and another had crews out ferrying people to higher ground.

Hurricane Katrina, August 29, 2005

Since it caused the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States and claimed more than 1,800 lives, most of us have some sort of connection to the story of Katrina.  But because New Orleans suffered such a horrific loss of life, many people don’t relate to what happened in Mississippi.  All the towns in coastal Mississippi were 90% flooded in just a few hours; and when she came inland, Katrina went on a two-day rampage through central Mississippi, and every county in the state was declared a disaster area.

Just as the Hurricane force winds began to slow, the eye passed over Meridian, Mississippi, near the home of my mother, Peggy Meux.   She and her sister Bobbie and brother-in-law James took cover in the basement of her 100-year-old home to ride out the storm.  The story of Katrina and the prayers to and from that old basement connect my family.

Hurricane Hugo, September 22, 1989

My sister Dee called on Saturday afternoon to ask if we were feeling the effects of Irene in Charlotte.  She remembers

trying to reach me the morning after Hugo.    Hurricane Hugo was a category 5 Hurricane that was supposed to curve northward after trouncing the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.  But instead it ripped into Charleston and Myrtle Beach and cut a path across mainland South Carolina and into Charlotte.

The story of Hugo that I share with some of my dearest friends from my days in broadcasting is a 48-hour epic fight to keep WSOC-FM on the air for folks who were depending on battery-powered radios.  The WSOC facility at 1901 North Tryon had been damaged and partially flooded.  Rain was pouring in through the roof, just down the hall from the Studio.  It was broadcasting at its finest–serving the community.

Charlotte flashflood of August 5, 2011

Three weeks ago a torrential rain dumped six inches of water over Uptown Charlotte and other parts of the Region, pushing area streams above flood stage.   A small stream wraps around the back of the property where Interact Studio is located, in the renovated Grinnell Building off West Morehead Street.  In just three hours, there was so much water coming down that storm drains failed.  Both the street and parking lot behind the building were suddenly covered in water and we had ourselves serious flashflood.

My colleagues Carson Tate and Jeannie Sullivan and our good friends from GMR Sports Marketing gathered outside the main door, watching the water rise around our vehicles with our mouths open.  My car appeared to be the worst hit (see photo) but later we would learn that at least a dozen cars in the parking lot were totaled, including those belonging to Carson and Jeannie.

The tenants of the Grinnell Building now share the story of the day we watched in disbelief as our cars went under.  But the main storyline was about being grateful that we were together and safe, because after all, a car is just a car.  My friend Mike Boykin of GMR Marketing commented that perhaps we saw a tiny sliver of what the victims of Katrina saw happen to their communities.

Storm stories are not only about survival, but the purpose for which we survive.  Kenneth Gergen is a psychologist who has spent his entire career researching human beings and their personal narratives.  He believes that from early childhood on, we piece together our identities through the stories we tell.

Gergen has discovered powerful themes that run through the narratives of humanity.  One of these themes is overcoming challenges that make life meaningful.  The storms of your life and the way you survive, your “overcoming stories,” are connected to your identity, wisdom and purpose.

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Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.