It is sometimes overwhelming to live in these days. We, the people of the United States, have experienced, sometimes up close and personal, tragedies that seem to keep on coming!
In August of 2004, I lived in Orlando, Florida. I remember hearing in the news about Hurricane Charlie but I didn’t pay much attention. We Floridians are used to these “inconvenient weather events”. However this storm was different. When we heard that it was coming through Punta Gorda and heading right for us, we took the extraordinary measure of boarding up our rectory windows, shopping for storm necessities and then just waiting for it to hit us.
As I waited nervously in the parlor of our rectory with another priest, we watched the news on television, describing the total devastation at Punto Gorda, Florida, hearing that the seaside church was wiped right off its concrete floor – a total loss.
It was so unreal; we still had our electricity and eerily waited, watching the weather channel describing that Hurricane Charley was delivering gusts up to 130 miles an hour. And it was heading directly for Orlando. We were warned that the eye was perhaps going to travel up route I-4, right through the city, just a few miles from us.
Then the wind came, and occasionally I glanced toward the picture windows that were now covered with plywood sheets. As violent gusts whipped around us, I remarked to my housemate that the windows were actually bowing in! Could they hold the stress? Well, they did but eventually we lost power that night and that lasted for eight long days.
Yet we were some of the truly lucky ones. Many of our parishioners lost their power and, as is usual in Florida with its mere one or two feet of earth, above a solid base of sand, we reasonably expected that our 130 trees on our property would suffer damage but we had no idea how bad it would be.
Some of our neighbors and parishioners lost a vehicle or even a part of their house due to giant trees falling everywhere. One family with their five children heard the wind and thankfully rushed into a closet for safety. Thanks be to God, they were safe but their truck was demolished and their house and property were a mess.
On our part, after the storm passed through, our property looked like a giant backhoe has run its course. Our buildings were fine but we lost 113 of our 130 trees.
And adding to this experience, we had two more hurricanes in rapid succession – not as bad – bringing us more excitement and damage than anyone could reasonably expect. After the third storm in six weeks, we are all absolutely exhausted.
When I hear about and see the monstrous destruction on the Caribbean Islands as well as the tragedies that have happened in Texas and Florida, and the earthquake’s destruction in Mexico City, my heart goes out to them. We in Orlando were fortunate but we will never be the same. Just hearing the word, “hurricane, brings back feelings of fear and visions of unexpected destruction.
Having thankfully moved back to Massachusetts, I expect some storms but not with disastrous magnitude but we never really know for sure. Mother Nature, no doubt, may have more surprises up her sleeve.
My faith-community in Orlando and our other friends and neighbors reached out to others in their need. The generosity of the human spirit, pardon the pun, just “blows me way.” The words of the marriage vows mention that love can help us in all the experiences of life, “for richer and for poorer, in sickness and heath, until death do us part”. By the grace of God, may the last part not happen too soon.