It’s been almost two weeks since Hurricane Michael rocked parts of the Florida Panhandle and Georgia, and I haven’t really known what to say. I still don’t, honestly. It looked like it was headed right in our direction and at the last minute, it moved east and gained in strength. Michael ended up hitting about 30 miles east of us and was only one MPH shy of being a Cat 5. To say we got lucky is an understatement. The shitty part of that “luck” is that other towns weren’t so fortunate. Panama City, Mexico Beach, Lynn Haven, and countless others have been completely ravaged. Some of these places have been totally wiped off the map. The images are raw, devastating, and awe-inducing. My social media feed has been filled with pictures and videos of downed trees, power lines, and concrete slabs that used to be people’s homes. It is overwhelming to see. I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut every time I see another photo.
The other thing that I’ve seen is hope, compassion, and whole towns coming together. Every day there are new calls to action regarding donations, drop off points, and people getting groups of volunteers together. And this is only the beginning. There are already numerous benefits and fundraisers taking place all over town. It’s amazing to see how much good can be done when communities band together and focus on a common goal.
Two weeks ago, our Facebook feeds were filled with anger and sarcasm and there was a layer of constant, underlying tension. I’m not very good at ignoring the noise, so I’ve tried to unfollow people who constantly post antagonistic articles or memes. I have to stay out of the comment sections because my Smart Ass will rear her ugly head, but there are times that I get so irritated about what I’m reading that I jump right up on my high horse and get in the thick of things. And I KNOW in the moment that I’m not changing anyone’s mind, but sometimes I can’t help myself so it’s better if I shift my focus. Shouting down the opposite side of an issue does nothing but further entrench us in our own opinions. There is so much going on in our world that is dividing us, but since Michael, it seems like we’ve realized that in the end those things don’t matter quite as much. We’ve all gotten so busy trying to prove we’re right all the time that we have forgotten about the person on the other side of the keyboard. Before the storm, we were all pointing fingers and digitally screaming at each other, but now we’re working together to help people in the worst situations imaginable. Why can’t we keep that focus all the time?
Every time tragedy strikes, a new hashtag emerges and we hear speeches about how the citizens from this town or that town will show the world what it means to survive.
But honestly, this is simply what people do. It is humanity at its core.
In times of crisis and despair, we band together and put the petty bullshit aside to focus on what’s truly important. We work tirelessly to fit the pieces of our lives back together in some semblance of order and try to rebuild what was. Nobody cares anymore about sexual orientations, race, income levels, or political parties. The only thing that matters is that people are suffering in towns just a few miles from our own. This is America at its finest, when we have seemingly been at our most divisive.
Why is that? Why does it take a situation being at its worst, to bring out our best? Why can’t we treat each other with the same level of kindness and compassion day in and day out, regardless of circumstance? It’s gotten so easy to label each other as This Way or That Way, but we are more multi-dimensional than that. We have all walked a long road that has formed our opinions and decisions, and we should try to be more cognizant of that. I hold on pretty tight to the whole “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” idea, and I rarely give people the chance to fool me twice. While I still feel that that is a valid lesson in certain situations, I have learned through these past two weeks that I need to do a better job of giving people more credit than that. There are people that I had very different opinions of two weeks ago, and I’ve been surprised at how those opinions have changed. It is so important to stand up for what you believe in and make your voice heard, but I have learned that I need to work on my approach. It seems like the art of having a civil conversation has been lost somewhere in our phone screens, and the only way we think we can get through is with snark and a clever meme.
There is a video of Lady Gaga and the Dalai Lama at the US Conference of Mayors that has recently popped up on my news feed. It’s from several months ago, but it has made the internet rounds again and I’ve watched it several times over the last few days. Towards the end of the video, she says this:
“We need to shift the perspective . The solution is that we need to build a kinder and braver world. We are unified in our humanity and the only thing that we all know, we all appreciate in one another, is kindness. So this has to come before all things. And you must operate relentlessly in this way. With everything you have.”
Eventually, people will begin to move on from this storm. Everyone will get back to their day to day lives and social media will again be filled with pop culture, politics, and division. The holidays are around the corner and we will all be eager to share our Thanksgiving tables and Elf shenanigans. It’s going to be very easy to forget this sense of “we’re all in this together” that is so strong in our area right now. I’m challenging myself to operate relentlessly in kindness, and I hope that you’ll join me. Deep down, at the end of it all, what matters the most is that we are all trying to do our hardest to make it through the day and live a life we can be proud of. We want what’s best for ourselves and our families and while that may take different forms, the intention is the same. What better way can we rebuild from this storm than to remember that?
If you are a Destin/30A local and would like to drop off donations, here is a short list of locations.