Lessons I Learned From Irma
I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature. - Paulo Coelho
In 1960, the year before I was born, Hurricane Donna hit Naples, Florida with all of its fury. Similar in wind speed to Irma, the eye came right through southern Florida, and my dad, mom, brother and sister rode out this Cat 3 + storm, which packed a wallop of Max 145 mph winds. Both my mom and my brother Jim have conveyed to me how the walls of our little wood frame house moved back and forth during the storm. When the eye of storm approached and everything was calm, my dad drove my brother to Vanderbilt Beach to check out the water. To their amazement, they discovered that the Beach was bone dry, as the hurricane had sucked all of the water out to sea. They rushed back to the house to ride out the other half of the storm. It returned with a vengeance, along with a formidable storm surge. My mom recalls that our yard looked like a war zone after Donna had past- littered with boats, refrigerators , construction debris, and palm branches . Suffering only partial roof damage, my family was thankful to come out of Donna alive. I was in the “ oven” at the time, so I wasn't too worried about it !
Now Irma, on the other hand, was a different story. Similar in intensity to Donna, as far as the potential for damage ( yet with its sheer size, Irma caused greater havoc), Irma posed a major threat , because it was my wife and my son in our own frame house enduring a Cat 3 storm. It is easy for me to remain aloof at other people's hardships until the trouble comes to my doorstep . At the end of the day, when Irma had passed through central Florida, and during the aftermath of the clean up, several thoughts came to me.
Nature needs to be respected.
Considering the infinite amount of information and technology that we process and utilize each day, the weather serves as a poignant reminder that humans cannot control everything in this world. Waking up at 4:00 AM to listen to 100 mph winds whip past our home like a bullet train was an unforgettable experience. Being proactive when we know bad weather is coming is much different than being reactive when we've procrastinated under a false sense of security. Who would've ever predicted the disastrous flooding in Houston caused by hurricane Harvey ? Who ever imagined rivers cresting in Florida, creating so much damage ? Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Respect nature.
Consumerism affects us all.
My head is still spinning over how fast stores emptied out of food and water, and how gasoline for our automobiles and generators seemed to dry up overnight. We knew people who waited for hours in gas lines before and after Irma hit central Florida. This was a reality check for me revealing just how fragile our consumer system hangs in the balance. I plead guilty on the fact that I have taken for granted the luxuries of western life. I assume that when I reach for a wall switch and click it, that lights will appear. I don't think twice about holding my glass under the water dispenser, expecting clean water to fill my cup. And of course, I naturally assume that I can move from my air conditioned car to my climate controlled home. Yet all of this could be gone in an instant - and was ( and still is for some people) !
Catastrophes help us evaluate priorities.
If a Cat 5 storm was barreling towards your hometown, would you know where all of your important papers and documents are ? Have you stocked up on extra non perishable food items, and set aside containers of drinking water? When our children were young, forest fires approached the back of our house one Sunday afternoon. We woke up from a nap, awakened by the smell of burning pine trees.I remember my wife and I grabbing our kids, the pets, and our wedding album before evacuating. The things we take with us in the event of an emergency are telling. Thank God the fire was contained and our home was not damaged. If you had to leave your home at the last minute, what would you take with you? What would be of greatest importance to you ? Situations like hurricane Irma help us evaluate what we value most in life. At the end of the day, except for some sentimental items, most material stuff can be replaced; but people and relationships are priceless.
Community happens in the midst of disaster.
I have witnessed this phenomenon several times in my life, and after hurricane Irma was one of them. I'm referring to true community. People helping people. Unsolicited. Unprovoked.Generous compassion. Genuine concern for one another. Like my neighbors across the street from Minnesota who had never experienced a hurricane before- they were some of the first people to venture outdoors after the storm had passed. After they picked up most of their yard, they started on ours, helping clear the entrance to our subdivision. Another neighbor showed up with a chainsaw, and we all worked together in tandem. While our Minnesota friends were assisting an elderly lady around the corner; another neighbor who owns a hardware store, replaced the Minnesota peep’s broken pvc piping on their well. The hardware neighbor was helped by a friend who has a landscape business, who broke out his chainsaw to cut away branches from a fallen tree, which was in the hardware guys driveway. With no electricity, people shared their water, their freezers, their grills,their food; and most of all, their friendship. Instead of retreating to our large screen TV’s, we discovered community in the midst of disaster. With no WiFi in our homes, we actually learned to talk to one another and deepen our relationships. No, we did not experience total destruction as some had during Irma, but we still learned some important lessons that will last for a lifetime.
There are no greater treasures than the highest human qualities such as compassion, courage and hope. Not even tragic accident or disaster can destroy such treasures of the heart. - Daisaku Ikeda