Lessons from Irma: Stripping Away the Unnecessary

Unless you’ve been living on a different planet you must’ve, via some medium or another, heard about the recent hurricane that devastated the Caribbean region and parts of Florida. Fortunately, I can now say that I am a survivor of Hurricane Irma (and if I really want to show off I’ll even throw in a casual mention that I also survived Hurricane Luis twenty-two years ago). (A mention as casual as six-inch leather pumps.)

As I’m writing this, it’s been exactly one week since I was cooped up in my laundry room (which is located under a concrete staircase, surrounded by concrete walls, in the center of my apartment building) (tips for if you should ever have to endure such misery) with my mother and my husband, trying to somehow mentally hold the building together and praying for time to pass as quickly as possible and for the winds to subside.

It’s been a week but truly it feels like one very long endless day in which the sun sometimes takes breaks and the moon comes out to take its place. For seven days there’s been a curfew without break (until today when people were allowed on the street for seven hours); where I live we’ve been lucky enough to get electricity back just a day ago but still no water or signs of it. Due to severe looting, there’s a shortage of food and drinking water and my family and I have been living on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches and ramen noodles.

To put it plainly, this situation sucks. My family and I were lucky in many ways to come out unscathed by this monster of a storm and we have many things to be grateful for, but still, I’d be lying if I said we were 100% okay.

There’s a lot of uncertainty on the island in which I live at the moment. As it is, I’m not even sure if I still have a job, seeing as the place where I work suffered severe damages from both the storm and looters (though, if you ask me, probably more from the latter than from the former—and yes, I say that bitterly). We don’t know what’s going to happen to a lot of things. But in the midst of all the uncertainty and calamity, I know that there are still things to look forward to and to hope for.

Things are tough right now, but as the 180mph sustained winds were ravaging my island I kept telling myself “We just need to make it out alive; the rest we can work on.” And this mantra I held on to more than anything else as we sat in that dark room, in the damp heat, watching the hours tick by. I hold on to it still as I eat my twentieth peanut butter sandwich for the week, as more news of people being violent comes in, as my phone sits untouched for days without any form of signal and loved ones sit at a distance waiting to hear from us.

All I wanted was to live. Utilities and communication and food are all things that are essential to our survival—it would be ignorant on many levels for me to pretend they’re not—but we have ourselves, our lives and each other and that is enough. As long as we are able-bodied and have the willingness to move forward, to crawl out of this hole Irma pushed us into (Sparta-style, for sure), then we will. Everything material is replaceable. Before the internet and even phones were invented people still managed to keep in touch with each other, so—advanced, technological generation that we are supposed to be, we’ll find ways to let our loved ones know that we’re okay. We’ll ration out our food and our water as much as we can. But at night we’ll have our lives and ourselves and our loved ones to come home to, to discuss plans and ideas, to lean on each other for support, to care for each other and look out for each other. All we need is ourselves.

Sometimes when natural disasters happen, part of their purpose is to remind us of what’s really important. As Hurricane Irma loomed closer I was certain the house I grew up in would be rubble on the ground when I opened my door again, but I had made my peace with it. I asked for no more than my family and myself to make it through. Because in this world of many material things, that is essentially all I need.

So while the situation as it stands right now is quite dire, and though I’ve lived through moments of panic and despair, though the future is cloudy and uncertain, I know that as long as we’re alive and willing to move forward we will get back up on our feet and be the thriving island we once were.

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