Doug asked me where I would like to go for a mini vacation, and I said, “You know, I’m kind of bored of the Hamptoms” to which he responded, “Hey, how about a Hurricane shelter? I hear we’re getting a big one in a couple of days. Category five.” The idea sounded intriguing and I suggested, “We better beat the crowds, hit the facility early and get a good spot.” Doug was already way ahead of me. This was in his wheel house, his element. He spent years as a coreman in the military, and was in positions in which he was responsible for others in various crisis situations. He’s been trained for it.
So we went back to our respective apartments and packed. Since I’ve never been a guest at a hurricane shelter I didn’t know what to bring. Thus I packed everything.
And so did Doug.
I wasn’t sure what outfit to wear. I wish there was a magazine that featured the latest in evacuation-shelter-wear. I put on something comfortable yet chic. I didn’t want to dress down too much lest I ran into someone I know.
And of course I didn’t want to appear too affluent because that’s just inviting trouble.
This particular shelter was massive. It’s well named Palm Harbor University High School. It’s a veritable campus of buildings. Its sound, concrete buildings boast windows with tempered glass reinforced with wire.
In fact, their school crest is all about hurricanes!
Bring it on Irma! No hurricane, regardless of how fierce is going to mess with us.
Considering how chaotic these things can get, offering space to over one thousand people, things went amazingly smoothly. The staff was welcoming and compassionate.
Our accommodations were more than adequate. It’s pretty much BYOB…..bring your own bed. Which we did. Well, Doug did. He went to Walmart and found the last of a really nice memory foam mattress. It sure beat a sleeping bag. Or a blanket on a hard floor. In fact, I don’t remember when I got such a good night’s sleep.
The staff said they would be putting us up in classrooms with as many as 60 other people. That’s a whole lot of cheek to jowl. But we lucked out and shared a room with only 14 others.
In fact we didn’t know how much we would come to appreciate our little carved out space.
There were nearly 1500 people spread throughout various buildings by the time lockdown was announced.
Lockdown was when the hurricane was becoming its strongest. And that lasted about seven hours.
During those hours we were not really locked in, but were advised not to go out under any conditions. Even the rest rooms, which were outside our building, were locked during the lockdown.
And in retrospect, it’s one reason Doug and I were present during this event.
Not for some higher spiritual purpose really, but a very practical one. When I learned that we wouldn’t be able to use the facilities for seven hours, I said to Doug, “Are they kidding us? That’s not going to work. Hurricane or no hurricane, when Nature calls…” Well you get the picture.
He agreed. That was not going to work. People were already anxious, disoriented, tired, and frustrated. What better way to push people over the edge than to deny them bathroom privileges?
I had rated the place five stars until the lockdown bathroom fiasco.
So in Doug-style crisis aversion, he initiated a conversation with a staff member, and she in turn talked to someone in charge and they in turn decided to use the internal bathrooms reserved for faculty. Granted they were single-stall bathrooms, one for men and one for women, but they would work in a pinch.
So I’m proud to boast one of our major contributions thus far: prevention of both riots and peeing off balconies.
This type of experience can be an adrenaline rush, calling on all our resources to work together, body, mind and soul. It takes so much to gear up and to be in this environment. To be thrown in a confined space with complete strangers. Add to that, everyone knows that no matter how comfy their bed, they won’t get much sleep. There’s just too much going on, and they are wondering how it will work out. Will they have homes to go back to?
Will they have to rebuild their lives as they knew them?
YOU KNOW HOW SOMETIMES YOU JUST KNOW IT’S ALL O.K?
While Doug took care of what he was trained for, and made sure the staff of tireless volunteers knew how much they were appreciated, I made sure I stayed in the consciousness I have been in training for. Staying centered and detached, yet remaining compassionate.
Interestingly, I felt that, regardless of the media coverage of Irma, casting her as the most ferocious and deadly of storms in recorded history, and warnings of leaving a devastated Tampa Bay in her wake, I really wasn’t worried. I knew somewhere inside (as so many others did) that we would be ok and there would be minimal damage.
But as I said we were there for other reasons.
I could feel it when I saw so many people from varied cultures and perspectives. Young, old and in between. We witnessed such unity consciousness. A willingness to work with others who we may not normally be connected to. The Iranian family bunking next to us shared their warmth and their home cooked cuisine with us.
Doug assisted a woman, Jalah, as she studied for her American citizenship.
Granted, there were tense moments, especially when the wait for bathrooms was up to half an hour long. People were crammed into hallways, laying on blankets and sleeping bags, some just sitting in chairs, under cold fluorescent lighting while others walked up and down those halls to restrooms all night. But despite their hardship, there was an underlying wisdom in all there that this would be the best place to carefully pick their battles.
THE MAIN EVENT
After I had a chance to settle in I was looking forward to the main event. I wanted to feel the storm. I wanted to feel Irma coursing through every fiber of my being as I lay there in my bed.
It was incredible. The wind picked up speed and force. It masssaged our building from top to bottom, as it rhythmically moved stuck energies. Feeling nature on such an intimate and intense level, how could you not be affected? How could you not be changed?
And so, as some of us suspected, Irma shifted down in category and there was minimal damage in this part of Florida. For the most part people’s homes were intact, with the exception of many of us being without electricity for a few days.
Meanwhile, Doug and I are planning another getaway. We are thinking of visiting a nice earthquake shelter. Hmmmm…what to wear?
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