I came into the world in the month of September. The great time of hurricanes. My birthday is only a few days away and Florida is heavy on my mind. Weighted on my heart. Saltwater runs through my veins and as I write this looking over this hill from Tennessee I can see those waves crashing, hear the pounding of the Gulf growing angrier by the minute, the slash and snap of the Palms wild from the wind. Along with the rest of the nation my eyes are now turned to the devastation that Irma has left in the Islands and fearing what is yet to come.
I’ve ridden out more tropical storms than I can remember. For about fifteen solid years I’ve made Tennessee my home but right now it’s in my blood to stock up on batteries, water, canned food. To hunker down and hope.
Our little brick house turned into Noah's Ark full of cousins and animals and family year after year. That was the safe house. My mother managed a restaurant right on the beach where I worked every summer. People sat at tables by the water and watched the moonlight on the waves as they rolled up on the shore.Their vacations were our livelihood. Every year we saw to it that it was bordered up and prayed for the best through the hurricanes. Every, single year. A part of everyday life.
When Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast I witnessed the destruction first hand that a raging category five could deliver. I was on the way to visit my Daddy at Ft. Polk. My mother crept the car by a warship that had been tossed onto land like a toy boat. The destruction was eerie. It was like driving through a graveyard at the close of day.
Hurricane Opal was downgraded to a three before it hit but the storm surge of Opal came in at high tide and carved molehills out of the backside of condos. From the front they looked perfectly fine but when you walked around to the back of the building there actually was no building there. The storm surge is a deadly thing.
The first time I actually moved away from Northwest Florida was to transfer with my company a world away to south Florida. The palm trees were taller than the buildings from my hometown. The scent on the air intoxicatingly exotic. The night blooming jasmine, the orchids. I was twenty-one and didn’t know what to expect. North Florida is a land of old oaks, beautiful beaches, slow talkers, and porch rockers. Pine trees. Ft. Lauderdale was fast. It was happening. It became home. I gave birth to a baby boy there in Hollywood just north of Miami where I had friends.
I evacuated one time when it looked like a hurricane was coming in fast and furious and might land as a strong four. My daddy wanted us to get out. Me and my sister packed up two cars with two little boys, two dogs, four puppies, one cat, and all the family photos I could carry. My brakes went out as I skirted storms that sent crashing limbs into the roads. Tornadoes chased us all the way to my Aunt Kate’s door up in Georgia. It was days upon days before the power was back. When we returned the National Guard was still in charge, the power still out.
The world is full of refugees. It’s a clamoring world problem but sometimes a distant drum from our side of the pond. Until Katrina sent refugees scattering everywhere trying to find a toehold to hang onto. Until Harvey just hit and took our breath away. Until Irma rolled across the Atlantic and into our reality. After the big show, when all the TV crews have moved on, the recovery begins. Recovery is slow. Harvey’s price tag might be close to 190 billion. But crunching the numbers says nothing about the amount of lives that will have to be rebuilt. And here’s Irma with Jose right on her tail. This time we are the refugees.
Millions have evacuated. Millions. I can’t even fathom that number on the move in this country trying to avoid disaster, trying to save their loved ones. That’s a lot of tired, scared, thirsty, hungry people. That's a mass exodus.
I saw on the news where a city in another state opened a shelter and advertised for Floridians to keep coming north, they have arms open. I was watching the news from Tennessee but I was watching it as a Floridian. Worrying about family and friends there in different counties. Watching the path of the storms twists and turns. Then I realized, I wasn't the only one watching. That I wasn't alone. I was an American and that the entire nation was watching.
Should you be a praying kind of person, now would be a good time to give a pause, to say hello to God for a good cause. For the children losing homes, for the parents clinging to their children, for the first responders everywhere and those that are standing at the ready to work to rebuild what is about to be destroyed and can’t be held back. For order, peace, provision.
My old friend, Frank Sundram posted on Facebook a reminder from the old movie Starman. When the alien is asked why he wanted to come to Earth he replied, “Unlike the rest of the Universe, the people of Earth are at their best when things are at their worst.”
In the aftermath of a storm that was felt across the entire state of Florida the stories of people opening their doors cities opening their gates to evacuees have begun pouring in. I continue to cling to this truth: that in the survival against the worst of what lies ahead of us we will prove in a million ways be at our very best.
Pennies and prayers. They both count more than you know. Give what you can, where you can from the heart of who you are.
I'm praying for your peace in the middle of all of life’s storms within and without.