While in Florida recently, I watched the predictions and preparations for Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna. There is a pull of memories everywhere as people recalled Hurricane Charley of 2004 that zigzagged past its landing zone in Tampa and pounced instead on the unsuspecting heads of Port Charlotte’s residents, turning the community into a wasteland of smashed homes and broken lives.
The newspapers use a term I have never heard before: The “cone of uncertainty,” referring to the best guess at where the effects of a hurricane will be felt, sort of a professional hedging on the radar bets to cover the potential embarrassment at giving a hurricane the wrong address. As soon as I read that phrase, I knew I was on to something.
Why a cone and not a square or a trapezoid? Are hurricanes really round, like the spinning galaxies with their fiery cores shown on the weather news? Or are they more like amoebas, who have nothing, much less a cone, to contain their fury?
Don’t we all live in a cone of uncertainty? Living in the cone can offer you hell or hope, as you cannot know what to expect beyond the present moment in which we always find ourselves. The cone of uncertainty is blind to social status and deaf to language. Like a raging hurricane, it is the great leveler of our lives.
On the other hand, there is something crazy hopeful about the cone of uncertainty. If anything bad can happen, it follows that anything good can happen too, even if it is unplotted on your personal map. You win the lottery, someone who is sick gets well, a promising new career appears.
The cone shifts with the winds of time and politics and beliefs. It does not remain the same, but searches for the next light to join as it marches up the future to change the landscape of our lives. The cone of uncertainty is our own potential, our own personal hurricanes.