My hurricane stories pale in comparison

My hurricane stories pale in comparison

I lived in Miami for 8 years. One of my least favorite things about Miami? The hurricanes. Not the football team (my alma mater); we got hit by a few real ones, only the storms I went through pale in comparison to Harvey.

When you’re in college, a hurricane coming equals a hurricane party. The big concern is the beer stockpile, not the bottled water, canned goods, cash or gasoline. It was exciting; there was no fear involved. I left my friends in the dorm during Floyd, went to stay with my sister in her condo, and the rest is a blur. I’m pretty sure I was more hurt by my hangover than I was by any damage Floyd tried to cause. It was a whole lotta prep for a whole lotta nothing.

When I became a homeowner, of course, it was more difficult. If you don’t have hurricane shutters, you have to nail up huge sheets of plywood, which often involves lots of cursing, some splinters, some scrapes, bumps and bruises. It is running to the nearest Publix to find empty shelves where there should be bottled water and bread. It is no gas anywhere, and without much cash to take out anyways, it’s nerve-wracking.

Katrina was a bitch. Everyone thinks Miami didn’t get hit during Katrina, and again, it really did pale in comparison (obviously) to what happened in New Orleans, but we had enough water in the back of the car that fish could have been swimming where your feet are supposed to go. The water started coming in the front door, the garage door and both sliding glass doors. The power went out, it was hot, you can’t open a window, and all of the food is slowly spoiling. But that’s it. Aside from the bad decision after the storm to try to get the mold smell out of the car with mothballs, we emerged unscathed. It was nothing.

Wilma was a wind event, not much rain. But that was even worse, because I was home alone with the dog and the cat while my husband at the time was prancing around Argentina with his “amigas” at a concert all night as I huddled in the shower, afraid the roof was blowing off. (Clearly more pissed at him than I was at the storm itself.) Yet again, once it passed, I stepped outside, there were some skinny palm trees down, the stop sign was crooked, and I went to work. It was quiet and creepy, some of the windows in the office buildings were blown out, but we were all fine. I took the dog and went to Naples for the weekend with my mom, we got gas, and we emptied out my refrigerator. So easy.

But I find myself avoiding the Harvey coverage, because no matter the outcome, you never forget that feeling: I’m trapped. I can’t go anywhere. If you haven’t been evacuated, you stayed put and now the hard reality hits: It is hot, you are sweating, the time passes slower than ever before, and on the other side you expect devastation. You can’t sleep. You can only pray. It is truly a feeling of panic, even if you’re not alone.

So what I have paid attention to about Harvey is the sense of community. In contrast to my hurricane stories — too young to give a shit or angry, alone and scared — these are stories of coming together, taking people in, helping out and being present. Even in fear, saying: I have this. You need it. Come. Share. 

I wonder, would my hurricane stories be any different if I’d…ever bothered to get to know my neighbors? If I’d invited some of the people on my floor back to my sister’s house with us? If I’d paid attention to someone else, anyone else, instead of just boarding up the doors and windows and hiding out inside? Because that’s what you expect to do in a hurricane if you’re lacking in community — you close up shop, crawl in bed, wait it out and pray you wake up safe tomorrow. That’s not community. That’s isolation. And that’s how I lived, for a long time.

Community is the better choice. To know everyone; to know their faces, their names, the names of their children, what kind of dog they have. To remember who doesn’t drive, whose mother is on oxygen, where the flashlights are and what to be prepared for. It’s impossible to prepare for, but it’s easier in community. Community serves. Community loves unconditionally. Community prays, and community has an abundance of resources that stretch and reach farther. In any dark moment, community creates that sense of a lot of hands coming together to bring comfort and relief.

You can get through the crisis if you’re alone, sure. But that’s not how it’s meant to be. All of our everything is supposed to be shared. Whatever you have, whatever is needed. I’d like to think we can all see that more clearly, even after the storm passes.

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