BY CRYSTAL TINGLE
Fall is usually my favorite time of the year. The air is getting cooler. The sunsets are more majestic. It even begins to smell like pumpkin spice. But this fall came to visit with a little unwelcomed baggage. For almost 15 years, our beautiful coastline has been shielded from major hurricanes…until now. While not everyone took a hit, everyone took a hit by this monster storm because even though many of our homes were left unscathed, thousands lost everything. And when our friends and family just down the road are hurting, we all hurt. Disaster of this magnitude affects us all in one way or another. It abruptly halts everyone’s life. Without question and undeniably, it halts the families and businesses directly hit, but it also indirectly stops for the rest of us as well as we restructure our daily routines to willingly and without hesitation roll up our sleeves to help, dig into our pockets to give, or open our homes to house and help our broken panhandle restore and rebuild their lives. It is truly all hands on deck!
If you have read and followed many of my past contributions to On the Coast, I write from a personal and raw perspective. I write welcoming you into my private world of joys as well, as my trials and my heart is an open book. I really don’t know any other way to be. And this article is no different. I have seen so much destruction and loss at the time of writing this that I needed to share more of my heart. And here it is… I love my small city! I love my panhandle! I love my state! And I love my country! Why? Because WE are the people! I know that’s not quite what you were expecting me to say, but hear me out.
WE come together! We come together as a community, as a state and as a country. There is something weirdly wonderful about what disaster and tragedy brings out in us. It looks you in the face and double-dog dares you to a challenge. And from what I have seen, we the people always accept! Unity happens…compassion conquers, race disappears, hate halts and love abounds! WE happen! I have witnessed such an overwhelming tireless response to help the hurting from countless people and places like our amazing local churches, businesses and restaurants, to major ministries driving in semi-trucks with hurricane relief items, to search-and-rescue organizations, our National Guard and utility workers, to the very hands and feet of our locals being boots on the ground to sort, organize, and deliver. It overwhelms my heart to see us all as one! No one is asking if you are a Democrat or a Republican. No one cares!
The beauty in the ashes is that even as divided as we may seem at times as a nation, we are desperate to be together. We need one another. Life WILL begin again for our friends who lost homes and everything inside them, but the journey will be long and tiring. I keep them in my heart and prayers as I ask you to also because it will be well past Thanksgiving and Christmas before even the lucky ones can find a new normal. Based on the destruction I have seen, it could take years.
This is a gentle reminder to us all that as these holidays rapidly approach and we start thinking about what we will have on our table to eat and who will sit around it, or as we think about the gifts we will buy for our children and family, many will still be figuring out how to get the roof back on their home that is literally sitting on the ground, or the tree out of the window if they even have a home left, and where they will find employment now. WE need to continue to cling. WE need to not forget our families that have been directly affected.
I am reminded of a family that came by on one of my trips to Parker, FL. The mom told me that her daughter turned four the Tuesday before the storm and had gotten several new Barbie dolls for her birthday. By Thursday morning, they were gone. In addition, what they had on their backs were what they had been wearing for the past five days. This is one of so many stories we heard that just takes your heart and rips it right out of your chest. Our surrounding communities have already done and given so much, but we need to continue as the different phases of rebuilding arise.
So please consider how you can help this holiday season. I just know that I don’t need one single thing. Nothing! I would rather use whatever my family would normally spend on me to bless someone else. Maybe you feel the same. Maybe that’s a conversation you could have as a family. Maybe you could provide a new Barbie doll to a little girl who lost hers. By the way, I went back with a couple of dolls the next trip but I didn’t see the family that day…maybe next time. I will keep looking for her sweet smile and give her a small token of hope and maybe a little joy.
There is a scripture in Psalms that says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Of course this isn’t literal regarding time but rather a season of life. So in this season we are approaching, please look for ways to bring some joy and mostly hope back into the hearts of so many who are grieving so much loss. Remind them they are loved and not forgotten. Use this holiday season to bless and show our humanity as well our unity because we care. Because WE are the people!