Sixteen Years Later: Hurricane Ida
My heart hurts. There’s this awful feeling, a mix of deja vu and what I can only assume is some form of PTSD, capped off with the overwhelming feeling of not being able to do enough for my neighbors. Reading the posts of the cleanup process starting these past few days brings so much back.
Sixteen years later and I can still hear the silence peppered with helicopters — but not a single bird chirping. I can still smell the mold as we pushed open the front door. I can still feel the soaked carpet squish beneath my feet as I tried to scale the “waves” of it where the old wood tiles we’d carpeted over had buckled. I remember the way the mold and mildew looked growing under the glass and over the faces in picture frames. I remember the saltiness of my own tears as we cautiously moved from room to room to assess the damage and see what was possibly worth trying to save. And I remember the deep sense of loss when I realized it wouldn’t be very much.
Yes, it is “just stuff.” Having your family safe after a tragedy like this makes you appreciate that more than anything else. But you can’t truly understand the true weight of what “it’s just stuff” means until it happens to you, until you’ve seen all of YOUR stuff ruined. Seeing every piece of furniture, every photograph, every memento spread out around your home, covered in filth and growing more types of mold than you can imagine — it just changes you. When your memories and possessions become literal garbage — it changes you. And somehow, you have to compose yourself enough to be able to throw your belongings into giant contractor bags and to drag them out to the curb — over and over and over again until your house is emptied. And then you start the demo, literally taking a sledgehammer to the walls you’d painted the absolute perfect shade just three weeks before. And then you move on to help the next family member. And the next.
What our neighbors are experiencing, we have gone through ourselves. We know how much farther down this road they have to go and our hearts are breaking for them. We know how from now on, when you look back at your life, there will be everything that happened before the storm and everything that happened after. What you are experiencing right now — the loss, the shock, the heartbreak, the exhaustion, the helplessness, the fear, the anger, the fragility, the gratitude, the sense of humanity so plainly on display — will never fully leave you. Yes, you are changed and your possessions are fewer, but you are stronger than you’ve ever imagined. You can, and you WILL, move forward. You may choose to rebuild or decide it’s better to start over somewhere else. You will get new things. Some will be donated from kindhearted strangers and whenever you use them or wear them, you’ll be reminded that there is still good in the world, so much good. The things that are happening right now probably seem like a total blur, but they’re also being etched into your soul in a way that words can’t describe. You’ll realize it more fully one day (hopefully many, many, many) years from now, when you’ll hear of a similar kind of devastation. You’ll rush out to do what you can to help because the sheer weight of the empathy alone will make it impossible for you to do anything but give all you can. And we will be right there alongside you.