Shikata Ga Nai (it cannot be helped)

How I’ve dealt with my fear of tornadoes

Story by Charli Hueter, Staff Writer

Dorothy screamed before my eyes. Though clearly dated, the grayscale film did little to alleviate the churning in my stomach. While Dorothy frantically called for her beloved Toto, I watched something eerie writhe in the darkening distance. For the first time in my life, I was familiarized with the notorious weather phenomenon hauntingly deemed ‘the twister.’ And much to my disbelief, this was no mere fantasy sketched upon the pages of a comic book. This was something all too real, and it didn’t just occur in Kansas.

I was 6 when I first watched “The Wizard of Oz,” and from that point on, I could confidently identify a major fear of mine. Everyone else in my kindergarten class followed one another around in circles with their declarations of war on spiders, snakes, heights and the dark. They were oblivious, however, to the terrifying power of a thunderstorm. So, I was alone beneath the desk for many a dark day, listening to the pounding of rain and praying it would stop.

I became adept in the art of listening for the signals. First, I learned to recognize the sound of thunder from within any building and debunk all possible interferences, including movie special effects. I reached a level where my stomach became clairvoyant. Whenever I had a bellyache, a thunderstorm was almost always within the hour’s forecast. I was beginning to sense the signs unconsciously, and when I did, I was the first to seek shelter, even if it was only sprinkling outside.

Ten years later, I am proud to say that I’m done with cowering at the distant rumble of thunder. I don’t notice so much the ominous rustle of leaves as a looming cluster of thunderheads roll in. Sure, my instincts are still there, but when I entered high school I learned a few things that greatly influenced the way I addressed my fear of storms.

Within the past two months alone, I faced weather that would have rattled my younger self to the core. The first incident took place over spring break when a surge of particularly strong storms pushed its way across the Southeastern states. This cell reportedly spawned a total of five isolated tornadoes, all of which accompanied my family and I as we drove our humble van across the bayou. The second incident involved a different van and a storm so angry it was spitting hail at the windshield like a machine gun, all the while mockingly painting the sky the same color green as my own face.

How exactly did I push aside my fear at these moments? Aside from rapid-fire praying at the time, there was one pivotal notion that had become clear to me prior to these events: storms are a force of nature, therefore they are beyond my control. What happens is going to happen regardless of the fact that I try to hide from it. Plugging my ears won’t change anything.

I was always trying to block out the reality of the situation, which only compounded the danger. As soon as I confronted the presence of the storms, I realized that if I could not control whether or not a tornado was produced, I could always decide how to deal with the issue. As the Japanese phrase goes: shikata ga nai — it cannot be helped. So, Charli, you must help yourself.