8:00 a.m. Thursday, September 29. The morning after Hurricane Ian ravaged the west coast of Florida where I live. I make my way through the dark interior of our small townhouse with the dim light of my phone that thankfully still has thirty percent charge left after a long day and night of texting with far off friends and family.
I pick up the damp kitchen towel resting on top of the rolled-up rug at the base of our front door. The empty silence is punctuated with intermittent gusts of rushing wind. Pulling back the rug, I push open our door against another brief squall and the pile of leaves plastered against the bottom. Sunlight and a blast of cool breeze streams into our home, refreshing after the humid, stale air and darkness of our interior. With no power, there is no air conditioner to keep homes temperate in the heat and humidity of our tropical environment.
Standing in the doorway, I survey the damage to my surroundings.
Leaves, palm fronds, and chunks of foot long bark from palm trees litter the ground and neighborhood cars. Trees are stripped of leaves on one side, still full on the other, evidence of the direction the wind blew with force. I’ve heard anywhere from 70 to 155 mile per hour winds. The towering palms stand like toothpicks waving limp lettuce pieces from one side. A tree across the street is missing a limb and another dangles a branch lodged in place over a neighbor’s car. Surprisingly, very little water remains in the street where only hours ago, the raging winds danced over the flooded areas creating miniature replicas of the stormy gulf.
Most of what I see is better than I expected. After surviving Irma five years ago this month, and hearing the predictions in the past twenty-four hours, I thought we might fare worse. Later in the day, I would learn that some friends did far worse. Their home was destroyed and flooded with waist deep water, and their cars swept away by storm surge. Unbelievably heartbreaking, especially by comparison.
After taking in the scene around me, I noticed something I hadn’t expected. Down the street, an older man shoveling debris into a pile. A young couple walking a baby in their stroller. Two women chatting, another walking her dog.
My next-door neighbor popped out. “Good morning. How are you doing?” she asked. We exchanged descriptions of how we spent the very long night and what little news we heard of the damage. She informed me that part of the Sanibel bridge collapsed. We compared notes. No power. Check. Still have water for now. Check. She had no cell service, but I did. Another passing neighbor, overhearing our conversation, asked my provider and if she could use my phone to let her parents know that she was okay. “Of course!” Isn’t that what neighbors do?
We returned to our cleaning up. More people ventured outside to walk through the neighborhood or sweep up debris. Brendan and another man rinsed off our cars, checking for signs of damage. I left the door open to allow the breeze to cool the house. Some folks began taking down the metal shutters covering most of our windows. One neighbor who had given us some missing hardware rushed over to hand me some bills folded up, insisting that she wouldn’t take the payment we’d given her the previous day. “When I have enough for me, I will gladly share the surplus.”
Later in the day, after many conversations, we heard from our other next-door neighbor that her sister, a nurse, was trapped in the flooded hospital near Fort Myers Beach. She had returned from caring for her elderly parents in Port Charlotte whose boat ended up in their neighbor’s yard. As she began setting up a generator and barbeque, she offered to let us plug into her power source to keep our refrigerator running.
As Brendan and I sat down together to eat a few hours later, I could still hear bits of conversations floating through our open front door. That was when it struck me.
This is how we get through a crisis.
Community. Sharing stories, helping each other, and comparing notes is processing the trauma. Each person deals with it in their own way: walking, riding, talking, cleaning, or giving.
It’s how God made us.
God always has been in community. “Let us make man in our image.” One God, a triune connection creating others like them to multiply.
His instructions for us are based on community. Unity with him. Abide, remain, nothing apart from him. Love one another. Don’t steal or murder or covet another person’s spouse. He puts the orphan in family and admonishes us to take care of widows. Bear one another’s burdens. Pray for each other. Lay hands on each other and greet with a holy kiss.
We were never meant to live life alone.
I think this is why people rally together when crisis hits. 9-1-1 brought the city together. School shootings draw support from all over. It’s why Go Fund Me works, and people have rushed here and to other disaster affected areas to offer help to strangers.
It’s also why I love our church. After Hurricane Irma, we donned bright orange t-shirts and set out to help our devastated communities. Unexpectedly, we became known as “The Orange Army.” In the past five years, we’ve made it a point to welcome everyone into our church, but we also intentionally go outside the building to serve our city on a monthly and in some cases weekly basis.
“Church” in the days after Jesus was crucified and rose again was about being together. Joining resources, sharing stories of being with Jesus, and helping those in need. It never was intended as a place of judgment, religious isolation, and exclusivity.
It seems that God reminds us of this with every crisis.
Maybe crisis doesn’t create community. Maybe we are simply drawn back into community as a result of crisis. God is all about unity and coming together. Come-unity.
If anyone is interested in helping with relief efforts, I can guarantee that any supplies or funds sent through our church will go direct to families in need. You can give or find out more here: https://nextlevelchurch.com/ian/