Most of us live in an either or mindset. Things are going well or badly. We’re happy or sad. There is peace or chaos. Our brain and our culture like to put things in a box so we can make sense of the world. I see this daily with my clients. Someone will come in declaring their week was horrible, but by the end of the session we’ve identified many positive experiences. Or, a client says their partner has changed and is now loving and supportive, and they overlook the stitches, bruises and terror they’ve experienced in the past.
No matter what our perception is, the world is too massive and beautifully complex to be either or. When we open our minds and hearts and soften our focus, we can begin to embrace the paradox. Life is always both, and, and Hurricane Florence made this more evident to me.
The first place I noticed this paradox was in myself, specifically my anxiety. It escalated in the days prior to Florence, partially fueled by memories of what I saw and heard during my time as a crisis counselor in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Ultimately my anxiety provided me with both a challenge and some assistance. I barely slept and couldn’t eat much as we prepared to evacuate. It was difficult to focus and sometimes I literally walked around in circles in our condo, forgetting what I was doing. Thankfully, I became aware of what was happening, pulled myself into the present moment, and looked for where I had control.
I channelled my nervous energy into packing and gathering supplies. All my favorite clothes and sentimental items were packed neatly into bags that I arranged perfectly in the back of my Subaru. We had flashlights, batteries and emergency packages of food to take on our evacuation drive. I had enough water to hydrate the Brady Bunch and calories to sustain us for a week (yes I calculated that out). Thankfully, I was over prepared, but my anxiety incited me to take control where I could which ultimately decreased my stress. I also don’t have to buy water or snacks for the next month.
We evacuated for three days, and when I returned home I experienced both gratitude and grief. I was grateful our home was dry (we only lost ductwork and HVAC) and friends and loved ones were safe, but I grieved the physical devastation of my beloved hometown, and the huge losses friends and neighbors suffered. At times my grief morphed into guilt and I felt both grateful for my dry home, good insurance, financial security and guilty that others were suffering with fewer resources to assist them. Sometimes it was difficult to hold all these feelings at once and I was thankful for the simple task of picking up shingles and dragging limbs to distract me.
The immediate recovery after Florence was not an either or situation either. It provided both complexity and simplicity. Everyday activities like getting gas and groceries, charging our phones and sending emails took more time and effort than usual. In addition there was the complicated and confusing process of calling insurance companies, filing claims, and requesting quotes for repairs. In this midst of this, things were also simplified. That first week after Florence I worked outside during the day, and in the evening sat with my husband as we cooked on the grill. When it was dark I slept. When it was light I got up. There was no where to go and nothing to do except the cleanup tasks in front of me. I couldn’t have done it forever, but I enjoyed the simplicity of spending all day outside with my husband doing physical work, simple meals cooked on the grill and sound sleep with no electronic distractions.
The paradox of Hurricane Florence was also evident in my community. Florence brought both destruction and beauty to Pamlico County. Trees were thrown like pick up sticks, piers crumpled or gone, homes and businesses destroyed by floodwaters, and then there was the quiet stealth of mold making homes unlivable. In the midst of the destruction that devastated many lives, there was also beauty; neighbors and strangers helping one another, lineman from across the country working 18 hour days to restore power, money, time, cleanup supplies, and food readily donated to help those in need, a perfect sunrise just beyond the pile of debris. In the middle of the loss and suffering was love, beauty and resilience.
The recovery from Hurricane Florence will take a long time. Restored power and internet, clear roadways, and access to gas and groceries has created some sense of normalcy, but the reconstruction, financial strain and emotional stress will not be resolved for a while. As we move forward after the hurricane, it’s important to take both action and inaction. We need to repair our homes, attend to insurance issues and help those in need, but this must be balanced with self care or we will burnout. It’s important to return to healthy sleep and exercise habits, a diet full of fruits and vegetable and to participate in the spiritual practices that sustain us. Each day we should look for things to be grateful for and focus on where we have control in the moment.
I challenge you to open your mind and heart, and soften your focus so you can see things as both and, instead of either or. We must acknowledge the challenges we face so we can overcome them, and improve our life and the lives of others, while simultaneously embracing the beauty, grace and love that is available, as this is what will sustain us as we recover from Hurricane Florence.