Life After Irma

Some random thoughts on this first “real” morning for the past week in Central Florida, after Irma came through.

That was a trauma we went through here in the state of Florida. Knowing a huge storm was coming was like being forced to play Russian roulette. Like having a gun pointed at your head for a week. Sunday night, the last news I could get was that it had veered off track and was headed right for us. Then the internet went down. As a matter of fact, it seems to have come right over my house, but thankfully it had weakened enough that it didn’t flatten everything.

There’s a tendency after a traumatic event to push it away, to bury it in being busy (and now there’s a lot more to do, which makes that easier). The thought goes something like this: “well I didn’t die, I’m not even really hurt, so it must have been nothing.” But that’s the brain trying to heal so it can move on. I’m doing the opposite. I’m sitting with it. I’m honoring it by giving it some attention. I’m not denying that I feel roughed up, that my emotions are off-kilter. I’m moving back into my routine slowly and mindfully.

We drove around the immediate ten-mile area yesterday. If there’s such a thing as driving gingerly, that’s what we did. It was a gorgeous afternoon… nothing like a hurricane to make the air sparkle and shine. Storm damage generally got lighter as you traveled to the east. Not much damage in Sanford, the next town over, except for one street where an entire line of big trees was uprooted and lay fallen toward the south, like dominoes. A little micro tornado must have gone up the block. Those are the worst; I hate those little mofos.

This storm showed me that I’ve gotten complacent about the threat of hurricanes. I’m taking them more seriously now. Back when I lived in California I was totally prepared for a major earthquake, so it’s not like I don’t know how to do this. There’s a whole list of precautions and actions you can take. It’s not complicated. But I wasn’t ready for this, and I had to scramble, and it added to a feeling of powerlessness. I had a dream last night in which I was supposed to give a keynote speech at a dinner, and I had forgotten to print out my script and couldn’t access it online; the time of my talk kept coming closer and closer and I felt this dread of letting everyone down who was depending on me, this fear of total unpreparedness. Don’t need Freud to figure that one out.

I’m not specifically worried about the next storm, Jose. Right now that looks like it’s no threat to Florida. I’m not panicking about that one. But I do expect more big hurricanes will be coming through here more often. I’m not leaving Florida, in fact I’m planning to die here—of natural causes—so it’s necessary to start living differently. Be more on guard; have more contingency plans. If a micro tornado hits my house all bets are off, but I should be ready for a big, blustery old storm now and then.

Another random thought: for the past week, the furthest thing from my mind was Donald J. Trump and whether he might squeeze on a pair of jeans and come down to hand me and my neighbors some bottled water. The ins and outs of politics seemed very far away, and my concerns were exclusively local. I’m not reading the news in general. I know what I want to know, which is that the people I care about all came through this intact. The beauty of this post-traumatic moment is that we all know the same thing: with that gun pointed at our heads, we thought only of each other, and wished each other well. Something to ponder as we pick up the pieces.

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