I have been struggling over the past couple of weeks about how or even if I should write about the post-hurricane crisis on St. John, our beloved vacation spot and our planned future home. Make no mistake. I have wept and feel so deeply for our friends and the place we have such a deep bond with. It has been just soul crushing. However...
I feel like I am walking a very fine line writing this. We watched the complete devastation of the place we love most for days and then I just had to stop for awhile. The brown-ess of the island, the structures, the inability to orient where the photos were taken because all the landmarks were gone, familiar and adored places shuttered and covered by debris, boats actually everywhere. It all became too painful to look at. So I stopped. I could do that. While we continued to push our government to help by sending letters and emails and pressure, I COULD stop looking to give myself break. I then realized that yes, I may have needed to do that, but then I felt a little selfish and insensitive. Wait....what? While I myself am deeply invested in the island, I could turn off the imagery if I wanted to. But, the people I care about, the island I profess to love could NOT turn it off. There's a little enlightenment bomb for you. Mind? Blown. Teaching moment. I have no actual ownership on STJ except for the two weeks at the Westin St. John every August for the last fourteen years that lets me tap into a certain part of the island vibe. But if I'm honest, it does not actually expose me to being an islander. As much as I want that to be so, it is not. We have forged relationships with people who live on-island, we are Facebook friends, we drink together, we eat together, we support their businesses, etc. But we do not live there. And herein lies the difference. We cannot begin to understand the complexities of being a resident of St. John or of any other island. Steve and I both felt helpless during Irma, the aftermath and then with Maria. Our instinct was to go to the place we love so much. But then, we had to put it into perspective. None of what, was or is happening had/has anything to do with us. We are present a mere millisecond on the annual timeline of our beloved little island. I do not invalidate the feelings of all of us who truly cherish the place we go to as often as we can, but we are not the ones who were effected by this natural disaster.
I truly cannot imagine what our island friends face over the next months. In the northeast, we suffered Hurricane Sandy in 2012. For our area, a village on the Hudson River it was unusual to be so effected and for us, and it was catastrophic. Gas lines, power outages, flooding, houses swept into the river...it was like nothing our area had seen in recent memory. Our house happens to be on the hospital grid. We were out of power for three days, but, we had both running and hot water because we are gas driven and it was warm. We had matches and a gas stove that was not disrupted. Most importantly, we had a roof. When I think back to how upset and nearly hysterical I became at the end those three days, I am frankly embarrassed. Three days. When people I know are facing not just days but weeks or months without the basic needs not comfort but for survival. Power, ice, water, plumbing...seriously. This is not an over estimation or exaggeration. Re-building will take years. I know the spirit of the people on STJ and it is resilient, strong, and unwilling to give up. When they say say they will re-build, they mean they will re-build ASAP and we have their six. BTW: We If you are coming stateside, we have a guest room, lots of wine, good food and we're fun and we love you in advance. Email me. Seriously. Steve and I have been talking about moving to STJ since our son was in third grade. We almost pulled the trigger then, but we were nervous about finances so did not. It is my single regret in life. Our next opportunity is when our son graduates from college in eighteen months. That is our new and improved goalpost. And it has not changed.
We believe so strongly and so viscerally, that this island and the people of this island are the place and people we want to spend the rest of our adult lives on and with, that even the devastation that Mother Nature has left in her wake is meaningless to that goal. It has honestly only strengthened our resolve to get there. We have talked about what it might be like to be there now. Of course, those conversations are made of complete imagination. But part of that imagination sees us as part of this remarkable community, pitching in, clearing trees, clearing roads, helping neighbors, feeding people, doing anything we could to help anyone who needed help, because we would be doing it in the place we so much want to be in. Because that's what community is.
With that said, what needs to happen now is that our friends need our help. ALL our help. They are US citizens who are in desperate need to get things moving. And to continue with that help until our island brothers and sisters are able to stand on their feet again. We cannot forget about their needs. Our tourist dollars will ultimately be the big buy in. But until then please give to the places that will immediately benefit the islanders directly. These are our friends and neighbors, as are those on St. Thomas, St. Croix and Puerto Rico. They are not just somewhere to escape to for warm weather, palm trees and rum drinks. They are people who need our support now, and continuously. The two that are closest to our hearts are: First responders, St. John Rescue or St. John Community Foundation