I haven’t written about Irma or, more recently, Hurricane Maria. I haven’t written about the devastation in Puerto Rico because I have no special insights, no suggestions of use. Like any of us who are far away and have only what we see on TV, online or in print, I stare at the images of devastation and have no idea what to do.
I ask myself: In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, what can we do? What can I do?
Beyond giving what I can to the Red Cross or other legitimate organizations, I can’t even begin to conceive of the extent of disaster recovery that lies ahead.
I have written for years — albeit off and on — about the enormity of starting over, largely from the standpoint of doing so after a different sort of devastation — the death of a life partner or more commonly, a difficult divorce; loss of job and / or home; the sort of shift from family life to empty nest, requiring us to rebuild a life cut off from former associations with our kids’ schools, extended families, and so on.
I write about starting over from an age beyond our “youthful” idealism, our peak physical strength, and our most marketable stage relative to jobs or careers.
What faces those in Puerto Rico looms at a scale beyond anything I can conceive of, and anything I’ve written of, and anything I’ve ever experienced personally — people scrambling for water, food, medicine; people without cash in a society where power is out and credit cards are of little or no use, where there is no roof, no bed, no means to get in a car to reach a friend, no means to communicate to know if your friend — or your family member — is doing alright.
As I’ve read the stories, watched the news, looked at the images, I found myself wishing that I had a private plane at my disposal that I could dispatch with water and Tylenol and baby food! A silly thought, I suppose.
Then I remembered Trump’s fancy 757 that holds more than 200 people (but with its current (or 2016) configuration is designed for roughly 40). I thought of his smaller Cessna, a corporate jet, that might be easier to fly in and out of challenging airfields. And I wondered… Couldn’t he dispatch his “personal” aircraft to do whatever they could, to transport or airdrop necessary goods into the island, just as celebrities have been doing?
And what about the other exceptionally wealthy individuals in the upper echelons of this administration? In the wake of news regarding misuse of private aircraft on the part of certain Cabinet members — you and I pick up the tab for that — and the fact that two (I believe) Cabinet members have their own private planes, again I wonder… Couldn’t they lend their aircraft for a week’s worth of humanitarian aid?
Perhaps they are, and we don’t know it. Perhaps it’s a ridiculous idea, especially given the absence of air traffic control. But others are doing it. That’s as much as I know.
I found myself wishing I was younger, stronger, “freer” to jump on a plane myself and just go do something useful — anything I could to help — fill every piece of luggage I own with small portable solar lights, so even a few dozen people would have the hopefulness that comes from being able to see your way at night; pack jars of baby food and bottles of water; help make or distribute sandwiches on arriving; participate in a human chain to unload goods from stalled cargo containers, if that’s what’s necessary. Instead, my reality is my inability to help in any of these ways, and only to pledge what I can financially, which I have, designate the donation as being for Maria, and hope it is well used.
Other than that, all I can do is throw together a few words to remind us — all of us — that these are Americans facing an extended period of disaster recovery. Even that seems woefully inadequate.
It’s interesting to note the memories that flood back at certain times. The word “disaster” recently triggered a very specific recollection of an incident in my childhood. I’m guessing I was nine, maybe 10 years old. A friend’s house burned down. She lived a few blocks away. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but she and her parents and siblings were suddenly homeless, sifting through ashes and debris to salvage what they could, which wasn’t much as I remember it. But it wasn’t long before the community rallied round and helped in every way conceivable to get them back on their feet.
I can’t imagine the pain of that time for them, now, as an adult. I can’t imagine what that’s like, multiplied literally millions of times over, though it was rain and wind that dealt the devastation of Maria.
Sometimes, we struggle more when the numbers of those affected are larger; the scale of a disaster can render its humanity more difficult to grasp, to feel, to experience.
Naturally, the emotional ripple effects are secondary when everything is about bare knuckles survival. May we all be able to lend our support any way we can to the people of Puerto Rico, still in so much need, still in so much danger, and in the coming months for those who will need our solace, welcome in our communities, and simply put — our time, our patience, our compassion.
I welcome your thoughts.
Link to Red Cross Donations page, here.