Hurricane Hits England

Here is an example of teaching human spirituality in schools. A grade 9 assignment to focus on human spirituality in diverse settings was based upon this poem. The assignment is being presented here with the courtesy of the International School in Singapore.

It took a hurricane, to bring her closer
To the landscape.
Half the night she lay awake,
The howling ship[1] of the wind,
Its gathering rage,
Like some dark ancestral spectre[2],
Fearful and reassuring:
Talk to me Huracan[3]
Talk to me Oya[4]
Talk to me Shango[5]
And Hattie[6],
My sweeping, back-home cousin.
Tell me why you visit
An English coast?
What is the meaning
Of old tongues
Reaping havoc
In new places?
The blinding illumination,
Even as you short‑
Circuit us
Into further darkness?
What is the meaning of trees
Falling heavy as whales
Their crusted roots
Their cratered graves?
0 why is my heart unchained?
Tropical Oya of the Weather,
I am aligning myself to you,
I am following the movement of your winds,
I am riding the mystery of your storm.
Ah, sweet mystery,
Come to break the frozen lake in me,
Shaking the foundations of the very trees within me, Come to let me know
That the earth is the earth is the earth[7].

Author of the Poem: Grace Nichols

[1] The ship alludes to the slave ship used by the English to transport slaves from Africa
[2] spirit, presence
[3] Mayan god of wind, storm and fire
[4] Goddess of the Niger River
[5] Caribbean God of thunder and lightning
[6] Name of a Central American hurricane
[7] Alludes to one earth, home to one family of all earthlings

A Teacher's Brief Explanation of the Poem
The girl in the poem, a descendant of African slaves brought by the English to the Caribbean now having moved from there to England, is hostile to the English environment because of the deep seated feelings of resentment against the English uprooting her ancestors from their homeland.

There is a hurricane one night. The howls of the angry winds, the thundering of the clouds, and flashes of lightening keep her sleepless half of the night. She thinks of the storm the slave ship must have wrought in the lives of her ancestors at the time of slave taking.

She was well aware of the weather storms from her Caribbean time. She feels fearful because of the harm such storms wreak, but strangely she also has feelings of reassurance when she asks her familiar Gods about the reason why that particular storm was hitting the English shore.

She suddenly realized that even the English were not immune to storms, whatever their nature might be. After all "the earth is the earth is the earth" – there is one earth inhabited by one family of us all together. This realization changed the deep rooted feelings of resentment against the English warming her heart towards the English and their environment.

The Spiritual Principle
The narrower the identity, the higher is the stress level and the lower the comfort level. Conversely, the wider the identity, the higher is your comfort level and the lower the level of stress and resentment. Identify with humanity at large and you are comfortable everywhere. For your happiness, cultivate an all-inclusive identity.

A Teacher's Brief Explanation of the Grade 9 Assignment
Imagine you are the woman in the poem. The next morning you write in your diary about the revelation the storm has brought you.
You could include:

  • What woke you? What could you see and hear? Describe the effects of the storm on the house and the surrounding landscape.
  • What memories did the hurricane bring you of home and about your history?
  • How did that make you feel? What questions did it raise in your mind?
  • How do you now feel about living in England?

Natasha Talwar's Assignment Submission
Dear Diary,
You know that feeling, when you hear a shriek and for a second your whole body freezes, your heartbeat continuously thumps; you can’t seem to find what you should do? Well, I sure do, since this is what brought about the most in-depth thinking I had done in a while.

When I heard the shrill sound of my little sister’s cry, my head yanked up from the comfort of my pillow. It wasn’t like her usual daily cry; this was more of a shriek. I saw nothing wrong as I looked around my dark room. For a second, I heard nothing but complete silence. But, then her cry started up again, I could hear my mother comforting her and as much as I wanted to go sit with them, there was something that urged me to stay. It was like a pull, someone trying to speak to me from the world of the spirits.

I stopped thinking for long enough to clue in to the sound of heavy rain splattering against the concrete sidewalks, thunder booming down upon us, winds swooping and howling through the streets of the town, taking trees, lampposts, and basically whatever they could get to come along with them like some evil thief. I ran to the window and took a deep breath as I drew back the curtain. The first thing that caught my eye, was my beloved oak tree coming smashing to the ground. The wind stealing away its beautiful leaves while ripping out the roots and sending it flailing through the foggy air. Surrounding my tree, there were raindrops falling continuously from the sky and landing noisily. There was lightening striking sending an electric white through the black night sky.

I was immediately reminded of all the many hurricanes I had experienced as a child in the Caribbean, the winds sweeping through our tropical paradise, which was as common as the sun shining. But, why here? In England? We had moved to Europe where hurricanes weren’t as near as common. How could this be? Was it some sort of sign?

My mind flashed back to sitting around a fire with all the native Caribbean’s. Their foolish stories about huge ships and strict people and slaves always fascinated me as a kid. I had never thought in depth about what they had said about their so called “white people” and now we had moved to a whole country full of “white people”. The hurricanes were like part of us, friends if you must. But, to the English it probably would scare them. The gods of the hurricanes were here to scare the English.

I thought I had it then, diary. Revenge. I thought again about the campfire story. My father had always told me about my relatives coming from a far away place called Africa. In the story, the Africans were living peacefully until the English came along and brought them to the Americas. The Africans were used as slaves and they were enraged with anger. Diary, I think the anger had built up so much that it reached the gods. Oya, Shango, and Huracan, gods of the wind, storm, and thunder, had decided to take the matter into their own hands. They brought about this hurricane and sent it to England to show them what they get for disturbing our native lands.

I wanted to run out into the rain and dance. I wanted to sing out loud in happiness. I finally understood why England had never called out to me. Why I had never been able to feel apart of everything. I was finally coming to realize how the English had brought about everything I had grown up along.

I then went into sudden confusion. Should I hate England now? Should I run away and forget about England? Should I take out my own revenge on them? I didn’t have an answer. For a second I stood still staring out the window, a single teardrop sliding down my cheek.

But then, it struck me. The hurricane had come to remind me of my past, not take revenge on the English. They had come to tell me of what happened then, and what’s happening now. They had not wanted me to become furious with the English and take out revenge. They wanted to bring out the African part inside me. The spirits had tried to show me how that even though my ancestors probably hated the English, that does not mean I should hate them too. They were there to show me how even though we may come from all over the world, we all are united as one in the planet we call the Earth.

Once, I had finished deciphering this sudden mystery, I ran to my family and we cuddled together in our still standing house, watching as the English ran about screaming and yelling as they experienced something new. We looked out the window as our spirits came to life in the hurricane reminding us of our past and we thanked them silently for all we know now.

That day was when I finally realized the most life-changing aspect. Respect your past, but don’t use it to create your future, you are the building blocks to what you are and what you will be.

Grace Nichols