Commentary: Finding Normal After Florence

The day after Hurricane Florence made landfall, teenagers in Cary, N.C., took photoshoots in the rain. While the nation watched, horrified, at the 105 mph winds and rising floodwaters attacking the coast, students in my hometown seemed more concerned about their Instagram feeds than their lives. But for them, onslaughts of rain and the cancelation of school aren’t out of the ordinary.

Last week, when the hurricane hit, I asked my friends to describe Florence in one word. “Boring,” concluded the group chat. My friends still sent memes, ignoring the surge water swallowing entire towns just an hour away. My mom had five job interviews the day it rained the most. They weren’t concerned or scared for their safety because days of heavy rain had become the new norm.

The night before Florence made landfall, I cried myself to sleep in my dorm room. North Carolina is the only home I have ever known. It has given me everything: my curiosity, my passion to write and serve others, and opportunities that have shaped me into the person I am. The state welcomed my parents not only as immigrants, but also as people. Their Colombian accents weren’t considered a threat there, but rather signs of strength and perseverance. I never feel more loved than when I’m in North Carolina.

My home was about to get destroyed. And I wouldn’t be there.

I was in my new home, Andover, where dozens of fires ravaged the surrounding area and impacted people I could have seen on the street the week before. The two fronts I faced, one of fire and the other of water, were overwhelming. My tears could neither extinguish the flames nor slow the gales. Instead, the tears fell in the safety and shelter of my dorm room.

Over the past week, people have asked if my family is okay. I don’t really know what to tell them. My immediate family is fine, settled, undisturbed. But there are thousands of others, those with whom I share a home, that have lost their livelihoods and their loved ones. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, at least 43 people have died, sanitary and living conditions have continued to worsen, and local communities are in ruins. “The Wall Street Journal” reported an estimated 38 billion to 50 billion dollars in economic damage attributed to Florence. How can I simply respond that my family is safe and that everything is fine?

The situation in the Carolinas won’t be fine for a long time. Even if communities heal, another hurricane will likely hit our shores again. Without any radical reform to fix our global climate, more people will continue to suffer. There will be several more hurricanes within my lifetime, pummeling my home and country time and time again. But for small coastal communities, there is no choice but to rebuild, as they have always done. This isn’t the first storm North Carolina has weathered, nor will it be the last. We have prevailed against Hugo and Fran in 1989 and 1996, and we will again for Florence.

As I’m finishing my third week at Andover, I am inspired by the people who stand unwavering after Florence and their determination to continue with their lives. I, on the other hand, can’t seem to forget the videos of tearing winds and submerged streets in my home state. But maybe over time, I will grow to be as strong as North Carolina.

Perhaps posting on Instagram during the “storm of a lifetime” isn’t a sign of indifference to destruction everywhere. Maybe teenagers were telling the world, or at least their 1,000 followers on social media, that they would not be controlled by a hurricane, or that their blossoming high school experiences and lives would not be defined by wind speed or flood levels. As they try to return to their lives before the hurricane, others struggle to believe that things will get better. A singular post of defiance could provide that reassurance. Social media has the power to share perspectives, stifle feelings of alienation or helplessness, and spread the message that no one is truly alone.

Maybe my friends just wanted to update their feed — I wouldn’t know. But from here, in my boarding school in New England, I know that their struggle to find normalcy in chaos is a battle worth fighting.

Laura Ospina is a Junior from Cary, North Carolina. Contact the author at