“My oldest, the 15-year-old, he worries a lot. If something gets on his mind, he can’t let go of it.”
The Chappell family car is packed full for this impromptu trip to Tennessee. Tim’s in the driver’s seat. His wife Cathy is riding shotgun. Behind them, in the captain chairs of their Honda Odyssey are their 4-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. And all the way in the back, taking up an entire bench on his own, is Jackson.
The teenager is occupying himself with his phone, but he’s not playing video games or on social media, or streaming movies. Instead, he’s doing research. He’s on Google, learning everything he can about hurricanes that have hit Wilmington. As the miles pass by, Jackson is becoming an expert about storms named Fran, and Floyd and Bertha.
Every so often he’ll say something, really to no one in particular. He is basically thinking out loud. He may share some interesting fact about one of the past storms, or he may mutter a question. “I wonder when we’ll get back to school.”
“I know he was just trying to process things,” Tim tells me later. “But I was worried about the domino effect. If he goes, then the 10-year-old is going to go. And then the 4-year-old will start worrying just to fit in.”
This is a story about the desire to keep our kids out of harm’s way. We all want to shelter our children. We all want to keep them safe from the outside world. We all want to preserve their innocence and at points even hide them from the truth. But there is a huge difference between protecting your kids from the storm and protecting them through the storm. This is Tim’s Hurricane Florence Story.
“Oh back in college, we were the typical jerks. We thought a hurricane was an excuse to have a party! Grab the beer, get the liquor, this is going to be fun!”
By no means is this Tim’s first rodeo. In fact, he is a bit of a severe weather veteran. He knows he’s been through a couple of category one hurricanes, maybe there was a two somewhere along the way and he can’t even begin to count the number of tropical storms.
And the truth is, when he looks back, when he tells you the stories, he can’t help but smile. These are good memories. They are the stories of his late teens and early 20’s. Like the time when he lost power for an entire week. He and his roommate would just sit on the back porch, with a case of beer in between them, looking with jealous eyes at the neighbor’s home across the waterway… the ones who just happened to have a generator.
But that was then, and this is now. If you ask Tim how he’s changed since college, he breaks out laughing. “There are not enough words in the English language, you can’t possibly put that in writing.”
The big changes are obvious. Tim got a job. He met a girl and got married. He became a father. Having a family changes everything. Hurricanes are no longer an excuse to party. There are other people to think of now.
But in the early days, Florence was so unpredictable. Tim thought about evacuating to extended family in Virginia, but if they went that way they may still be in it. And so they thought about going south, maybe Atlanta, but if the storm turned and twisted like some of the models were predicting… it was all so confusing!
West was the only option that made sense.
“Pigeon Forge! That’s where we ended up. I had never been before, but my wife had gone years earlier and always wanted to get back. So this turned into a kind of like a vacation. At least we’d be in the mountains.”
The thing about problems and the troubles that face us is they can stress you out, even consume you, as long as you as keep thinking about them. Sometimes the trick is not to try and solve them away. Somethings are beyond your power to solve. And so you learn to let go and you learn that maybe the best you can do is just to try and distract yourself from your problems.
“I tend not to sugar coat things with my kids. I told them that this was a serious storm but that we’re leaving, and that we’re not going to be in it. And we’ll deal with whatever happens when we get back.”
In the meantime, there was fun to be had.
Show a young child a picture of Dollywood, and they jump on board. Just like that, a natural disaster turns into an adventure. But Tim was still concerned about Jackson. And Jackson was concerned about everything. He worried about his friends. He worried about his home and his room. He worried about how this was going to affect his sports schedule. And the more he researched, the more he read, the more he learned about past storms, the more his fears grew and seemed justified.
But then it all off a sudden it stopped. The Chappell family arrived at their hotel, and Jackson did something that few people in his generation could imagine. He put down his phone.
“I saw him looking out the window. I don’t think he’s ever seen the mountains before. He was in awe! He kept saying ‘This furthest west I’ve ever been.”
But if Tim’s strategy was working on the kids, it was not working on himself. You see, sometimes we can get away from our problems, and sometimes our problems follow us where ever we go.
Florence was everywhere. She was on the TV in the lobby. She was on the faces of all the guests in the hotel. It seemed like everyone there had evacuated from somewhere else, And they all wanted to talk about the storm.
“When I told them where I was from, I’d say Carolina Beach… the Wilmington area. And their eyes would bulge out of their head and they wanted to touch you, pat you on the back, comfort you.”
The company we keep have power over the thoughts we think. Our crowd can control our perspective. Sometimes it requires intentional action to change the influence, or at least to change who is influencing us. If a 15-year-old could stop worrying by putting down his phone, then a father could follow his own advice and change his company.
The conversations with the other adults in the hotel were getting Tim nowhere. He was able to get out of the path of the storm, but couldn’t escape all of its impacts. The gossip, the news on the TV, the desire to know the latest was still controlling him.
But then he became a father again. The next day when the adventure for him begin, too. The family started to explore their surroundings. They drove around the mountains, saw a number of deer, discovered several cool stores, did a little hiking, went to Dolly Parton’s Stampede. They even went on a roller coaster in the middle of nowhere.
“You’d just come around a bend, and there on the side of the road would be a roller coaster that someone had built. It was the scariest ride I’ve ever been on.”
Tim and his family had such a good time that they want to go back someday. It may be next year’s summer vacation. Come to think of it, maybe Tim hasn’t changed that much since college… maybe hurricanes are still an excuse to have a good time.