Prepare for a storm. Get ready. Equip yourself for trouble. The old 18th century nautical phrase, batten down the hatches, was coined when sailors, literally nailed battens (wooden rods) over tarps to prevent water from flooding into the hatch of a ship during a storm. It was a preventative measure to keep the ship from taking on too much water and sinking. It required forethought by the captain as well as the manpower of the crew. It was the recognition that something greater than the strength of the ship was approaching, and that in order to survive it, teamwork was required. Differences disappeared. Fighting faded. Rivalry receded. There was one goal, keep afloat.
Riding out the storm was the only option. The unknown of how bad it would be sat in the stomachs of the crew like a stone. Similar to going into battle fully aware you might not come home; the ship was in the hands of the storm and everyone aboard knew it. Battening down was a small effort to remain in control of the outcome. It was a façade but going through the motions helped all on board to feel as if they had some say…some part in what would happen. Any rogue crewmen became obstacles. Everyone knew that all had to work together to get through to the other side of an unprecedented storm.
Unprecedented because there was no precedent if a storm of a certain size or ferocity was survivable. There was no instance of survival in the past. No example to draw from. There were more ships on the bottom of the sea in that time, than floating on it. It was a dangerous business in those early days of sea travel and everyone who stepped on the gangplank knew the chances. Eventually, sea travel became safer. Captains and sailors learned from experience how to avoid or weather the storms.
Here we are in another unprecedented, though modern-day, circumstance. This time it involves more than the crew and passengers on one ship; this time the whole world is facing the storm. We are in uncertain times with an unknown outcome. We can deduce some things from previous storms, but we have never faced a storm of this size or ferocity before. We know the storm has a power that is stronger than our ships. It has the potential to sink us all. Our only option is to batten down the hatches. To work together to prepare as best we can for whatever comes. The only goal is to make it through to the other side of the storm.
And while the storm called Pandemic is unprecedented, our behavior is not. We have many precedents in our combined histories to use as our anchor. The way humanity has come together in the face of a global crisis is well documented. We dug 33 men out of a collapsed mine in Chile against all odds. We airlifted 13,000 tons of supplies a day for over an entire year to the people of Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. We liberated concentration camps. We rescued people from hurricane ravaged cities. We rebuilt after tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanos. The list is long and could take pages and pages.
The historical record shows that our response to disasters crosses borders, nationalities, ideologies, philosophies, and races. Over and over again we have come together and done amazing things to care for one another. In a disaster, we are strangely unified. Beyond language and cultural barriers, we are reminded of our humanity. The important things become obvious. Compassion rises to the top. Selfishness is put aside temporarily for the greater good. Our light shines and for a few moments we are beacons to the world and friends to each other.
So, as we prepare for the latest threat, the Corona Virus, let’s remember the precedents we do have. Let’s face the unknown together. Let’s do what we can to prepare and leave it all in God’s hands. We have survived every crisis to this point…together. This one will be no different. We will come out on the other side, wiser, more experienced, with greater faith. We will learn and adjust, so when the next unprecedented event occurs, we will be ready again…to batten down the hatches.