Sept. 14, 2013A wall clings to the remnants of a house in Jamestown, Colo., after a flash flood destroyed much of the town. Colorado farming communities along the South Platte River were ordered to evacuate the area ahead of a predicted surge in the flooding, which may have claimed a fifth life and has left many still unaccounted for, authorities said Saturday.Rick Wilking / Reuters
Without minimizing the pain, and loss both personal and material resulting from the flood in Colorado, I wonder why this or any other weather-related stories capture as much national attention as they do.
It’s not that I am unfeeling, and certainly for those in the area, whether they have sustained a loss or not, this really is a big deal. But why do these events capture national attention, and as much of it as has been given?
There is always the easy answer that with a 24-hour news cycle and endless ways to cover and share stories, the media is always looking for stories to promote. But were there no steady audience for this kind of coverage, they would not be able to do so with as much regularity and success, so the question remains.
What is it about weather stories that engage us even when the story has no real effect on us? I think it is because weather is one of the few things left, before which actually feel small.
Weather stories, or more accurately their enduring popularity, speak to the sense of awe and majesty that have departed from so many areas of our lives. Even how and when we die is increasing under human control, which is why we fight so hard about end-of-life issues, but that is another story.
The bottom line is that over the last decades we have become increasingly influential, if not in control, of issues before which humans were almost totally passive for all of human history. Don’t get me wrong, I would not have it any other way.
I am a big fan of increasing human empowerment for many reasons, including personal, theological, religious, and historic reasons. Having “conquered” so many issues previously out of our hands however, we are left with a hunger for the awesome and the unconquerable, which is where the weather stories fit in.
We long for the mysterious, the enormous, and what experts at the National Weather Servie even refer to as events of “biblical proportion.” They clearly are not attempting to engage audiences in debates about disaster theology, but the language remains resonant precisely because it takes us back to a moment when people stood small and vulnerable before whatever God(s) they believed in.
How do we combine the impulse to be both big and small at the same time, to conquer enduring scientific questions while feeling the intensity of mystery which so many of us crave? I think that is real energy behind the flood of attention paid to a flood which actually effects a relatively tiny number of us.
Perhaps one way to feel both big and small, to live with a profound sense of our own finitude while retaining the importance of our “little” lives is to offer the following meditation/prayer/thought:
May I/we find the compassion to care about that which I/we cannot control, and the strength to make a difference, however seemingly small, wherever and whenever I/we can.