Hurricane Maria: A Reflective on Perspective

 

It was 2 o’clock in the morning. I woke up, noticing the sudden stillness around me. The power had gone out and the sound of the air conditioner no longer lulled my mind to sleep. There was a penetrating stillness about the air; the storm was yet to begin. I fell asleep again, slightly waking up at various moments noticing the sweat around my neck as the tropical heat came in through the windows. Four hours later, at around 6 o’clock in the morning, it began. I woke again as a gush of wind slapped water against the window. Suddenly hyperaware, I jumped out of bed in search of my cat and ran through the house quickly checking that all the windows were closed. It was hard to go back to sleep after that. The gusts of wind only got progressively stronger as my family and I staired from inside the house, feeling powerless. María, the strongest hurricane to ever hit Puerto Rico, was tearing right through us.

 

I had never before lived an atmospheric event of this magnitude and my insides shook with fear. What scared me the most was the feeling of not being able to do anything against the rage that unfolded around us. Looking through the window, the wind was so strong that you could see it rush past, picking up everything it found in its way. The air was permeated by the sound of a giant monster as it made its way through touching everything  with violent force, rustling the leaves of the trees and leaving them bare. Later, the trees would look like they’d been burned by a huge forest fire. Sometimes the roar turned into a whistle and it was like the hurricane was singing in a low murmur that made my hairs stand on end. A snapping sound would suddenly join the murmur that crescendoed into an orchestra as the trees began to break, caving into the force that bent them down into a low bow.

 

The wind speeds picked up, a low howling sound spread through the house, the doors and windows rattled, water snuck in through the crack under the front door, the trees continued to snap and leaves swirled everywhere. We would have the storm upon us for more than twelve hours.

 

The night creeped into our home and slowly, the storm faded into a calm. We would soon find out that the true effects of the hurricane would be felt for days, months, after the hurricane itself had left. The calm, it seemed, was the chaos that would unfold when everyone came out of their shelters to see the true and lasting effects, and it was in these times that I was able to appreciate three important lessons in life.

 

Picture taken a day after the hurricane.

 

Reflection is important.

 

I am the kind of person that gets easily caught up in routine, shuffling from class to class, to meetings, to rehearsal, always having every hour of the day planned out until I barely even have time to think. I wake up early in the morning, chug down some coffee and get ready to face the day. Just like that, the days fly by me as though I were caught up in a whirlwind of time. On September 20th, I was suddenly forced into a period of reflection. There was nothing to do. While, before, time flew by, now it seemed that time had stopped. For a gal used to the hustle of incredibly hectic days, having the hours stretch out was unbearable. We had no water or electricity at home, so our daily tasks were reduced to buying food and collecting water to flush the toilets. We played board games incessantly, and when night fell, we played by the light of a candle. I took to reading, devouring the books that had sat on my bookshelves for years on a seemingly permanent “to be read” list. When I finally gave in to the empty days I was able to think, and I realized just how important it is to pause. Taking a moment out of your routine allows you to appreciate the really important things in life, like family and friends, as cheesy as it sounds. Pausing allowed us to get to know our neighbor, to unite in community, and to realize how important it is to spend time together. In the void of having no communications, I also realized how much time my phone took away from me. If I had had data, internet and signal, I would have never finished all the books I did in so little time.

 

Picture taken a day after the hurricane.

 

The things we truly need in life are simple and few.

 

Even though electricity is classified as a utility, living forty plus days without it quickly showed me that, in my case, it wasn’t a necessity at all. On the other hand, living without water for a week, a day, was no picnic. The weeks right after the hurricane were the hardest because there was no water, period. No water came through the plumbing in our home, there was no water in grocery store shelves, and no communications to be able to find out where to get this most important resource. I may not have needed to power a fan to live, but I certainly needed water. Just like that, being put in a situation like this made me quickly learn everything else around my life that I usually have but don't need, like eating three times day. In a short amount of time I grew accustomed to drinking room temperature water, eating cold food, having only one heavy meal a day, and taking showers using only one gallon of water.

Picture taken a day after the hurricane.

 

The strength of nature surpassed us.

 

I sometimes get the feeling that, as human beings, we have this belief that we can be superior to nature or rather, that we are superior to it. It is in events like these where we realize we aren’t above nature nor will we ever be. I think the error in this train of thought begins with the idea that we are separate from nature when, in reality, we are as much a part of it as the hurricane itself. Climate change is real, as it is affecting our everyday lives. It is changing the world we live in and it is scary to us because it threatens the way we have grown accustomed to live. In one of my classes, after everything kind of settled back into a new normality, my professor asked us: “are there really natural disasters?” In asking this question she was provoking a new kind of thought, that maybe hurricanes were not disasters in nature at all, but rather felt that way because we have built up societies that deny their connection to everything around them. In scientific terms, hurricanes come along to cleanse the land, clearing out the weak trees and making way for new, stronger organisms to grow. In a way, the hurricane is a way for nature to renew itself. From the perspective of us versus nature, it may seem like the hurricane was raging against us, but maybe all we need to do is change our perception and renew our connection to the source of our very sustainability. Reconnecting may just be the first step in the long journey that will be combating climate change.

 

Now, almost two months after Maria ransacked and left us breathless, there are still communities struggling to gain basic needs like water.

While my family fared well, quickly being able to recover, some were not as lucky, some lost their homes, some lost loved ones, some lost everything. If you are in a position to help, here is an article titled: 8 Puerto-Rico Based Nonprofits Worth Donating To where you can find a reliable group to contribute to.