Nothing says wrath of God like a hurricane. Those of us along the Mid-Atlantic coast of the United States are hunkered down wondering what’s to become of daily life when the storm is over. Responses to the situation have been, well, religious. Store owners spraypaint prayer-like sentiments to Sandy on their plywood protection, urging the storm to be kind. Interviews are laced with language appropriately placating to a deity. The storm named after a mythical monster has become a god. Such responses are not limited to Hurricane Sandy, of course. In fact, when death is expected pleading with the powers that be is routinely recognized as Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s bargaining stage of the dying process. We always hope that forces stronger than us might be willing to make a deal, cut us a bargain. The storm, given a human name, is personified as a deity. It is such a very human response to any phenomenon that forces us to realize just how small we are. Our egos may reach to the ends of the universe, but in reality we are fragile, scared children begging for the protection of a supernatural parent.
Last night as we were sitting here waiting to be hit, my family watched The Avengers. The juxtaposition of deities and heroes in the Marvel Universe fascinates me, and, of course, the movie has to explain that Thor and Loki are really only aliens perceived as gods. Compared with their human companions, they are immeasurably strong but they do not decide the outcome of the cosmic battle that devastates New York City. No, it is Tony Stark who flies the atomic bomb through the portal to the invading ice giants, saving humanity. Thor is too busy battling flying metal dino-whales. Humanity is responsible for its own salvation. The gods may help, but they alone cannot deliver. Against his protests of divinity, the Hulk bashes a protesting Loki into the floor of Stark Tower with the grunted huff, “puny god.” His only line in the movie. The portal, swirling hurricane-like over Midtown is forced closed and human technology, in the form of Iron Man’s admittedly cool armor, saves us all.
Hurricanes remind us that our technology can’t save us all. The advance warning may very well have spared many lives by the time this all blows over. As early as Thursday I was wondering if work would be called off or if I’d have to battle the rain and winds and storm surges to get to my office (which would have provided an awesome view of the final battle in The Avengers, facing, as I do, the Chrysler Tower and Grand Central). We have been warned. Our technology, however, can’t stop the force of the storm. Sandy may not be divine, but she is massive—much larger than any person who believes that there is some trace of divinity within him or her. As I sit here listening to the wind and the rain, I wonder what the weather is like in Asgard today.
Posted in Classical Mythology, Current Events, Deities, Movies, Natural Disasters, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, Hulk, Hurricane Sandy, Iron Man, Loki, Marvel Universe, New York City, The Avengers, Thor
Nothing portends the wrath of the Almighty like an unseasonal storm. The late season Hurricane Sandy, now dubbed the Frankenstorm because of its potential hookup with two wintery systems making their way east and south, is poised to make an apocalyptic scenario on the east coast, we’re told. Well, it is 2012, the year of apocalypses, after all. In an interesting shift, however, this storm is named after not a divine character, but Frankenstein’s monster, the human-made nightmare. I first read Mary Wollstonecraft’s Frankenstein back in high school, and I was immediately subdued. The story, undoubtedly frightening when first heard, is unremittingly sad. The “monster,” like all of us, finds himself in a cold and lonely world where he is rejected because he is different. It is cruel and Republican kind of world. All the monster seeks is companionship, acceptance. I found the story so sad that I’ve had trouble reading it ever since.
The naming of a storm after a terror created by humanity may be prescient, in a regrettable way. Only the most gullible (read “greedy”) believe that industrialization had nothing to do with it. We toasted our own planet for a buck or two. In biblical terms we have sowed the wind, for which there is only one kind of produce. Hurricanes are quite natural, and although the irregular weather of 2012 may prove simply a meteorological anomaly, it may be the result of our tinkering with the baubles of divinity. They certainly seem to be getting bigger than they used to be.
I have to admit to having a persistent fear of those doing the cobbling. Too often their motivation appears to be flat and green and indigestible. And nothing like stockpiling it makes a person somehow less human. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote Frankenstein not for money, but for love of words. The modern chimeras we construct are mere carnival side-shows by comparison. And like Victor Frankenstein we have engineered beyond our capability to understand. Our best option may be to stand silently and wonder at the forces that hold us enthralled. For in the novel, at least, the real monster is not the cadaver stitched together underneath the sheet.
Posted in Bible, Books, Current Events, Literature, Monsters, Natural Disasters, Posts, Science, Weather
Tagged 2012, Frankenstein, Frankenstorm, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, Mary Wollstonecraft
Back before any of us, or anyone we knew, had attended Grove City College, one tragic night a student on the basketball team crashed through the glass doors of the gym on west campus and bled to death. If you walked across that part of campus at night, it was said, you would see his ghost. Everyone knew his name was Jim, but I never saw him. Folklorist Elizabeth Tucker presents a rare treat of the anomalous and academic in her book Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses. Professors have traditionally shied away from the paranormal. It can be a risky way to spend your time since the supernatural has been banished from the academy for ages. That doesn’t mean that students and professors have stopped seeing ghosts, though. Tucker, like a good prof, doesn’t just tell us ghost stories and dismiss class. She tries to unpack a bit of what they might mean.
Ghost stories, even when entertaining, are able teachers. Kids going to college find themselves in liminal situations. Not really independent, not really supervised, they test the limits of what they’ve been told. Ghosts, not supposed to exist, are the ultimate rebels. They don’t even obey the laws of physics or biology. But what are ghosts if not the embodiment of the human spirit? We call them spirits, and they represent that part of us that stubbornly refuses to go gentle into that dark night.
Tucker’s book will not convince a skeptic that ghosts exist. It probably won’t cause you any sleepless nights (unless you are about to send your child off to college). Her book is more about what ghost stories say about the living, as would be expected of a folklorist. Although not a comprehensive survey, Haunted Halls may well bring back the ghostly tales of your own college years, for very few places are without their specters, especially on a rainy October night. And even though I never saw Jim as I cut across west campus in the dark, who am I to say that he’s not really there?