Beauty in a Time of Worry
This morning I awoke to one of the loveliest days of the year so far. Cool temperatures. Clear skies. Sun. When I took the dogs out, it was obvious that my favorite season of the year will soon be here in all its colorful glory.
Meanwhile, in Florida, a dozen different friends were waiting to see if their homes would be destroyed by hurricane Irma. Most had evacuated to safer locations, but some had stayed in place. While I was standing outside watching my dogs roam around the yard without worry, they and their dogs were huddled in boarded-up rooms listening to the wind roar and hoping they had done enough.
Last night I slept fitfully. I kept waking up and checking on my dogs, all of whom were peacefully asleep on the bed. Really, it was the other dogs I was worried about—the ones in the path of the storm, the ones left to fend for themselves, the ones with nobody to care what happened to them. I’d read the stories about people abandoning their dogs and other pets as they fled from Irma. I’d seen the pictures of the street dogs in places like Haiti and Cuba, with nowhere to take shelter from the devastating wind and rain. When I rubbed my dogs’ ears and told them everything would be all right, it was because I couldn’t do the same for the other ones.
Every time I woke up to check on the dogs, I also checked on my friends. As the night wore on and the storm drew closer, I monitored their Facebook pages, sent messages, tried not to worry. Mostly, I felt useless and afraid. Apart from offering a place to stay for anyone who wanted and was able to travel this far north, there wasn’t anything else I could do except wait and see what would happen.
The morning progressed, and so did Irma’s invasion of Florida. As she swept in, friends began to report in based on their proximity to her. Tom and his husband posted from the hotel where they’d sheltered, waiting to see if their recently-moved-into house in the Keys remained standing. Jason, celebrating a birthday, used the candles on his cake to light a living room without power. Kevin posted video of the scene outside his house, where water was turning the streets into canals. Susan reported that the tree in their front yard had toppled, but the roof was holding for now. Sandy, removed to North Carolina, worried that she wouldn’t know for several days whether or not she had a home to go back to.
One by one, they provided updates.
While this was happening, so were a lot of other things in my world. Mundane things, like doing laundry and cleaning the barn. Getting my mother ready dressed and worrying about what to make for dinner. And I tried to get them done. But every time I would start to focus on something I needed to do, it felt very unimportant.
I also started to get annoyed with some of my other friends, the ones posting photos of their vacations or writing about how they were going to see It or can tomatoes or engage in other perfectly normal Sunday activities. At my worst, I became irritated at Rafael Nadal for winning the men’s championship at the U.S. Open, and at every Miss America contestant for daring to strut around in eveningwear in Atlantic City while Florida was being horsewhipped by Irma. How dare they go on as if this horrible thing wasn’t happening?
Of course, we do this all the time, go on with our lives while somewhere else in the world unbelievably horrifying things are happening. Partly, it’s selfishness, but mostly it’s just being practical: there’s only so much that fretting will accomplish. Shortly after 9 p.m., I started a text message conversation with my friend Knicki. She was hunkered down with her dogs just outside of Tampa. Irma was headed her way, and due to arrive somewhere around 2 o’clock in the morning. She didn’t know if her house is still habitable, or even standing.
When Knicki signed off to conserve battery power in case Irma knocked out the power, she was engaged in doing a jigsaw puzzle. “What else is there to do?” she said. I made her promise to check in later, then went to bed myself. Even sleeping felt self-indulgent.
Several times during the night I checked in. There was no update from Knicki, and reports indicated that Irma was battering her part of the state. Finally, a text came. “We’re all okay.”
Irma is still a worry, and the light of day will reveal the extent of her destruction. And all over the world, other things are happening that I could, and probably should, worry about. For now, though, even if it’s for just a few minutes, I’ll go outside and be thankful for another beautiful day.
Michael Thomas Ford’s most recent novel, Lily, is a Tiptree Award long list title and is a finalist for the Lambda Literary award and the Shirley Jackson Award. More Michael Thomas Ford