The Path of a Storm

Fandango’s One-Word Challenge today is OMINOUS

Which brings me to a sobering question:
Who Can Direct the Path of a Storm?

On June 30, 1912 the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, was swathed in a sultry heat, over 100̊F by mid-afternoon. People sweated; some women at a public meeting were fainting; flags posted specially for Dominion Day celebrations the next day hung limp. At 4:30 pm folks outdoors noted a strange phenomenon: two cloud systems, accompanied by ominous rumblings, were headed their way. One was coming in from the southeast and the other from the southwest. The sky turned and eerie green; weird purplish flashes of lightening streaked across the land.

These cloud banks met right over the Legislative Building in the center of the city. There was a terrific boom as they collided and a huge grey funnel dropped from the boiling mass. Screaming and zigzagging, the twister cut a six-block wide swath northward through the heart of Regina, mowing down entire blocks of prosperous homes and rows of businesses, sucking up trees. It hit the rail-yards, bounced loaded freight cars across the tracks like tumbleweeds and later picked up the Winnipeg Grain Company elevators at the edge of town and tossed them across the prairie like they were sticks.

The citizens of Regina hadn’t seen a tornado before, had no idea what was about to hit them when the sky turned a lurid green. And no one could have predicted the tornado’s erratic path of destruction.

Who can direct the path of a storm in the affairs of men?

Reading history, I see where storm systems have arisen in human affairs. Two or more groups or movements, unhappy about the status quo and determined to upset it, move toward each other. Though they are naturally not aligned in purpose, they come together to accomplish a common goal, with each side thinking they can direct the changes that are going to be made. But there are secret agendas and other voices that factor in. These unforeseen radicals can change the course of the whole scheme – to the dismay of the initial participants.

Shakespeare, in his play Julius Caesar, gives a great example of this. Brutus and his fellow conspirators see Caesar as a ruthless tyrant and believe that doing away with him will solve their problems. Brutus, persuading his fellow senators to join in the scheme, utters the famous line, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flow, leads on to fortune…”

So they go ahead with their dastardly deed. At Caesar’s funeral Brutus gives Mark Anthony a chance to speak, not seeing him as a threat. Caesar was the problem; with him gone, things will go as planned. And Mark Anthony starts his discourse on a compliant note:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” He says that Brutus has given him leave to speak, “For Brutus is an honorable man; So are they all, all honorable men…”

Then, through crafty use of eulogy and rhetoric, he manages to paint Caesar as, after all, a benevolent ruler. By the time he’s done, he’s completely turned the crowd against the murderers. The senators, who had pictured themselves floating down that tide toward fortune, rather end up being tossed into a turbulent and bloody sea.

Rhetoric is a marvelous thing. It can persuade, get people fired up for a cause. It can also turn plans upside down. In the long run it’s iffy. Fine speeches rarely take into account all the angles, and before you know it, one pops up that no one considered.

Many a participant in some past movement, in retrospect, has wished they’d not been so swayed by the noble rhetoric and taken an honest look at all the facets of the movement. Who all was involved and what the real objectives were. They wish they’d had a better idea of where the movement was actually heading before lending their support — because where the movement finally ended up is far, far from where they expected to be.

In my next post I’ll write about the two women’s movements that came together in the late 1800s, both unhappy with the status quo, both with definite goals, and the path that the resulting tornado actually took.

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