My American Lit students were busily writing an exam this morning when suddenly everyone's cell phones started shrieking as if to announce the impending apocalypse. I suppose I should be grateful that the college has an automated system to warn everyone when disaster threatens, but it's a little jarring when all those warnings erupt at once in a quiet room full of students stressed out over an exam.
This time the message warned that severe weather was on the way--which, oddly enough, we already knew, since we could see out the windows: black sky looming, trees whipping in the wind, rain battering the windows while thunder rumbled and boomed and sirens screamed past the building.
But the warning told us that the storm carried the potential for tornadoes, and if that potential turned actual, we would be advised to "shelter in place," which for my class would require going down two flights of stairs to the basement, bringing the exam to a sudden (and sodden) end. I don't know many students who could write coherent prose about Wallace Stevens while rushing down two flights of stairs in fear of tornadoes.
"Keep writing," I told them, "and if we have to move, I'll let you know."
But the potential tornadoes did not materialize. My students finished the exam, and now the sky has brightened to light gray; the rain has paused and the sirens are silent. However, the weather report suggests that another band of storms is heading our way, but one thing the weather report won't reveal: Will the storms be severe enough to rescue me from the deluge of grading inundating my desk?