The only silver lining to a hurricane

A hurricane in August reminds us why Florida was sparsely inhabited until air conditioning made its attractions sweeter. Not a lesson to wish for, but one that shows the flimsy nature of our conveniences.

Today, large-scale systems like electricity and transportation grids have made living in Florida as easy as flicking a light switch. It wasn’t always so. We have mostly forgotten what it took to get from here to there, to wring water from aquifers by hand pump and electricity from moving water or wind. Good riddance, some would say, to that.

We don’t suffer like we did in the bad old days. Then, too, the lessons of endurance once honed by suffering and our proximity to nature are no longer razor sharp until something like a big hurricane comes our way.

It doesn’t take long for emergency response to mobilize—representatives of government, in service of large-scale systems, do their best when they are putting big plans to action—hard at work with fixes even before the first winds make landfall. They can’t fix human suffering.

The fallen tree puncturing a roof or swimming-pool screen can be removed, but the hole that stays is yours alone.

There is a good word to describe how you feel when every routine that you have nailed, hammered and glued together to form your life or your family’s breaks: depression.

Depression can fill your whole being as heavily as humidity fills your lungs after a thunderstorm. It permeates the tedium of days after the storm, patience frayed by waiting—for a contractor, roofer, plumber or electrician—hoping they are honest and people of good will. Hoping they will come at all.

But the first tendency of depression is to make everyone seem like children; that is to say, helpless.

Blessings do exist. The sun is shining, even if the heat is unbearable. People died in the storm; you did not.

And if the storm did not blow your home apart, or your family apart, you have time to reflect on what exactly holds you together. What do you value? Not talking about the lawn furniture blown off the deck or the X Box soaking up water.

The adult response to a disaster is to first feel that all your fingers and limbs bend like they are supposed to and then feel through the hierarchy of fellow sufferers because, more likely than not, there are many suffering more than you.

For instance, it is always the case that the biggest costs of large-system failures fall on those least able to afford them. A hurricane rips off the illusion that the poor are taken care of. Those least able to withstand any shocks, suffer the most.

For sure, there are strong shoulders among the poor, but no Home Depot for those who can’t afford to pay. No clean drinking water for those who can’t buy it.

Are we all poorer for a catastrophic hurricane? In some ways, we are. Insurance rates will rise. Again, American taxpayers will foot the bill for reconstruction to benefit people living in flood zones.

But the most important way we may be poorer is when we reconstruct our own lives without any consideration of strengthening the inequities of society. You, too, may be in need of a helping hand or a stronger helping hand than you have.

Kindness helps. Patience and compassion are the keys to endurance. Find a moment in every day to reflect on something beautiful you have seen, even if you have seen it a hundred times before. There is grace.

The only silver lining to a hurricane in Florida in August is to remind us that we can build and build and build, but nature always has the last word.

A hurricane doesn’t bring much good news to the world, unless your child is born in one. At least it wasn’t a major earthquake. There is no company for misery like that.


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