Last week we waited to hear news of Hurricane Irma as it crashed into Florida. My family was waiting for news from our brother who was hunkered down in a second-floor apartment in Tampa. That Monday morning it was a relief for us to hear that Tampa didn’t receive the brunt of the storm and the impact was nominal compared to other parts of the state and of course the devastation that hit islands in the Caribbean.
Before Irma made its way to Tampa, my brother sent pictures of my nephew standing near the beach line where the water had pulled back from the coast sucked up by the swirling winds of the hurricane. I immediately remembered the pictures from the tsunami of 2004 in Asia when hundreds of people died going out onto beaches where water had receded. Not realizing a tsunami was on its way, people went out to the beach to explore the phenomenon only to be trapped in the rushing waters of the wave when it arrived.
I visited Thailand just about a month after the tsunami hit and swam in one of the inlets of beach where people died in the wave. After going swimming in the afternoon later in the evening the people who owned the hotel showed us a video of the wave crashing into that very beach with people drowning and other people scrambling up the sides of the embankment barely making it to safety. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to watch just a couple of hours after having been in that very water myself.
The week I spent in Thailand touring the damage that happened, meeting people whose homes were lost, businesses ruined and family members killed was deeply emotionally impacting to me. I had nightmares for years afterward about a tsunami hitting a tall building I was in (much like the one the video I watched was taken from) and I would run, run, run up the stairs of the building until the waters would engulf me. After perhaps five or six years of dreaming this same nightmare over and over the last time I dreamed it I finally outran the wave up the stairs and I stopped having the dream.
When we talk about disaster clean up, there’s lots of discussion of digging out from debris, finding immediate solutions for clothing and food and shelter and rebuilding homes. But in our 24-hour news cycle, we are often then on to the next story. While people are left to rebuild their lives in whatever way they can, too often we are move on to fill our entertainment-need for news with another story. The devastation of life is often just too overwhelming. It feels like it can become that tsunami, a wave chasing us up, up, up the stairs threatening to engulf us in the pain of thousands, even millions of others around the world.
My favorite part of growing older now that I have reached my forties is the realization that while my body continues to remind me of how weak it can be, my spirit continues to grow in strength and fortitude.The stress and pain that I thought would crush me as a younger person I now know my soul can sustain and it’s alright to sit with others in their pain because it won’t engulf me completely.
There are oceans of pain all around each of us. Devastation from the storms of life both the real storms of nature and the storms created by people. Instead of moving on to the next storm and the next disaster – always running, running, running on – staying for the cleanup is the harder and more important choice.
Author: Julie Martinez