Irma’s Gone, but the Keys are still Strong

Today I had the opportunity to come alongside my Rockstar friend Raquel as she continued her work this week as a first responder assessing and meeting the basic needs of the residents of Key West.  Upon entry to the upper keys, the devastation depicted in photos  was now stretched out before me for miles and miles.  This was going to take a long time to rebuild.

The streets were lined with the debris that Irma had dropped like splintered crumbs on her war path.  As I continued the ride down south, I noticed cars parked like a drive-in theatre along the median.  After watching this scene play out several times along US-1, I began to realize these vehicles were intentionally positioned to ride out the storm.  Raquel later informed me that drivers chose higher ground to leave their cars in hopes Irma’s winds would have mercy.

Entry into the lower keys, brought more of what the upper keys forewarned.  Cudjoe and Big Pine Key seemingly suffered some of the hardest blows.

…I could continue share much more about what I saw, but I would rather share what I felt.

Driving in solo, I felt surrounded by a sense of protection, purpose, a drive to take care of this community by the governing bodies who stepped in to secure the islands and prepare for their residents’ return.  From caravans carrying port-o-lets, to telephone and cable companies working overtime to re-establish connections for their customers.  The Florida Highway Patrol, and the surrounding counties’ law enforcement united forces to set up perimeters ensuring safe environments for this work to continue.  The large-scale military presence was comforting to those there for good will and a strong deterrent to those with other plans in mind.

Free water, ice, meals and even tire repair was offered by locals, in addition to what the Red Cross and FEMA provided.

I had the chance to chat with a principal of a private school in Key West.  He shared that 90% of their families had evacuated and now in preparation for their return were asking what they could bring back.  He was hesitant to make requests, knowing these families had yet to see what they were actually returning to.  Still, I love that their desire was to care for the needs of others, before they had the ability to assess their own.  This was the overarching spirit of the Keys.

Florida Keys you have served as a refuge, retreat, a beautiful escape for us for so many years —now it is our time to give back to you.  We will rebuild and we will see an even brighter, stronger community in the months and years to come.  Though the damage is great, the heart of what makes you our favorite getaway still beats strong.

It may take a long time for the Keys to look like it used to, but it will not take that long for it to feel like home again.

Advertisements

September 11th: Destruction can serve as a Distraction or an Opportunity

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today marks the 16th anniversary of September 11th.  I will always remain grateful for the officers, firefighters, city officials and now utility workers that are out in the streets today working tirelessly to keep us safe in the wake of this storm, as they were 16 years ago.

September 11th.  I remember the conversations I had in the immediacy of the knowledge of the attack.  The fear of the unknown was palatable.  After checking in with family, I called a childhood friend that worked for a Congressman in DC.  A moment of relief washed over me, as I heard his voice answer the call.  He answered,“What happened?!” He had just deboarded a plane.  Together we pieced together the news of what had just occurred.

Even amongst the brave, widespread fear had settled in the hearts of Americans.  I recall a sign posted with red solo cups on a nearby private school for Muslim children.  This was not a declaration of a “DRUG FREE SCHOOL”  or a push for their local “PTA”.   Their sign read, “WE LOVE THE USA”.  This was their white flag declaring we are not them – the extremists, the terrorists

We survived the attacks of September 11th as a nation.  The by-product was a sense of unity during this season, a unity our nation desperately needed at the time.  The enemy lost again.

On this September 11th, we remember the fallen, the brave, the thousands of lives lost 16 years ago and the families that lost them.  Today we begin our own restoration in light of the natural attack we just endured.  In the absence of a personified target to blame – our focus is still on rebuilding and restoration…and formulating a new foundation.


As Floridians we took heed of the destruction this type of danger brought to Houston just weeks prior with Hurricane Harvey.  Although we had been down this road before with Wilma and Andrew and those in between, the dodging that we had been blessed with in recent seasons, did not seem promising this time.  We evacuated out-of-state, to shelters or bunkered down in homes shielded by shutters and hurricane proof glass to ride out the prolonged symphony of rains and the taunting pervasive winds.  Alarms pierced through our homes in the wee hours to prepare us to brace for the strikes.  We prepared for the worst and prayed desperately for the best.

The storm has passed.  Miraculously we made it through, given its true potential.  Our hurricane season is not over though ––it has actually given birth to yet another season of opportunity for bridge building.  Beneath the distractions our world may bring, lays the spirit of humanity.  The spirit that compels us to not just see, but in times like these, earnestly seek those in need and find a way to meet it.  During these times strangers become neighbors, neighbors become friends and friends become family.

Let’s make the most out of this opportunity to give back.  Enroll with your local Red Cross, connect with a food bank or homeless shelter.  Join forces with your local church or synagogue that are collaborating to provide relief to ourselves stateside and to the surrounding islands ravaged by this storm.  Feed a firehouse, police station, bless a utility worker, meet your neighbors :).

I would love to hear your stories of community and connection in the days and weeks to come.  In a time when we sensationalize divide, let’s override the system with stories of humanitarian pride.

Praying safety for you all!

Joycy