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Paradise Coast, You’re In My Thoughts
As most of you already know, we’ve had a very active hurricane season in the United States. Very active. To make things worse, it’s not even close to finished yet. Most recently, Hurricane Irma dominated the headlines. This monster storm wrecked havoc on the Caribbean Islands, Cuba, and Florida. To say I was worried would be a massive understatement. I still remember Sandy, after all, and Irma was bound to be much, much worse.
Last weekend, Hurricane Irma made its second landfall on Marco Island, a place that I’ve visited since I was about a year old. I have so many wonderful family memories, thanks to Marco Island. Eating crabs and shrimp on the balcony, collecting shells on the beach, floating in the pool and soaking up the sun, and much more. We even visited Marco Island every Thanksgiving – without fail. I still associate the holiday with white sandy beaches instead of filling turkey dinners.
So, after taking thirty (at least) trips to this small Floridan island, located on the glittering Gulf coast, it’s impossible for Marco Island not to hold a special place in my heart. I mean, Marco Island was one of the brightest spots of my childhood. And yes, you should all visit Marco Island. I’m not greedy. I want to share.
Of course, Irma ravaging Marco Island deeply affected me and my family. Marco Island sits directly at sea level. Initially, weather forecasts called for a 15 foot storm surge, which would have absolutely devastated the entire island. Last Sunday, I half-hearted cleaned my apartment while wondering if I would even have a Marco Island to visit again. My anxiety was through the freakin’ roof.
Now I’m not naive. I know hurricanes are a reality in Florida. A small island in the Gulf of Mexico is an easy target. Florida’s vulnerable position might be even worse in the future. After all, who knows what’ll eventually happen if climate change isn’t brought under control. I dread thinking about it.
I barely slept Sunday night. Or Monday night. I’m surprised my lessons were somewhat coherent.
Fortunately, Marco Island survived Irma’s battering, and now is in the process of recovering. The city resumed normal operations this week. I’ve plans to visit Marco over my Winter Break, and I’m positive that I will have an incredible time. Still, I won’t easily forget the constant sickly dread that accompanied me both inside my classroom and in my apartment. I didn’t have to personally witness Irma for the storm to leave me scarred.
Disasters happen every week.
Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, train crashes, you name it. Disasters aren’t going to stop. They’re part of the fabric of the world we live in. You shouldn’t allow news headlines to scare you, and you especially shouldn’t let the possibility of disaster stop you from traveling.
However, the shock feels different when disaster suddenly strikes a place that you love. A place you are deeply familiar with. You may not be living in the midst of it all, but the tightening of your chest and knots in your stomach are tangible, your worry real. Tragedy is now personal rather than faraway photos and quick snippets written by journalists.
It’s tough to process. Very tough. But life goes on.
How can I cope with the disaster?
Okay, first of all, your feelings are 100% valid. It’s dismissive to say “oh, stop making this tragedy about you, think of the people who live there.” Your personal pain doesn’t mean you care any less about the people who are experiencing the disaster first hand. I lost count of how many times Marco Island’s permanent residents crossed my mind. Accept your feelings. You’re not stupid nor selfish. You’re human.
Remember to take care of yourself. Last weekend, I frantically watched “live cams” of Irma, and refreshed Reddit live feed pages in the hopes of finding good news. Not an emotionally easy task, lemme tell you. I spent hours glued to the Weather Channel and CNN. Hours.
However, I eventually forced myself to leave my laptop, and go out to dinner with a good friend. Why? Because my mind needed a break. Torturing myself wasn’t going to help anyone. So give your brain a break too. Nothing positive comes from making yourself sick over an event outside of your control. And a hurricane was most definitely outside of my control. Although … dictating the weather would be a really amazing super power.
Finally talk to someone. A friend, family member, significant other, whoever. Bottling grief inside never works. The people who care about you will listen to your fears.
What can I do to help?
You’re not totally helpless when disaster strikes a place you love. Reach out to reputable charities and relief organizations to donate a bit of money. This CNN article lists some of the ways you can help Irma victims.
Money isn’t the only way you can help. If you’re tight on cash, spread awareness and link to organizations on social media. Offer to donate time or food instead if money isn’t a possibility. Write cards to suffering families. Hell, even send a support tweet to the region’s government or tourism board, letting them know that they’re in your thoughts.
And remember: this too shall pass.
I know Marco Island (and Florida) is strong. My love goes out to you folks.
Has disaster ever impacted a place you care about? How did you deal with it? And, please, keep Irma’s victims in your thoughts and prayers. Marco Island is on the road to recovery as we speak, and the residents could use a bit of your positive energy. Same with other areas that are affected. Thanks for reading.