Hurricane Irene made landfall this week, here in upstate New York. She arrived as a tropical storm with dark cloud masses, thunder, heavy rain and wind. With fear and panic millions in and around New York got prepared last minute buying food, water, generators, fuel. We were among them. The hurricane had sucked up ocean water and then in a few hours dumped 5-10 inches of rain with a powerful force of water on the entire east coast America. The landscape overflowed and water wildly ate its way through bridges, dams, roads. From creeks to rivers the overflowing muddy water flooded farms and towns, even sweeping some homes down the hill in a landslide.
That hurricane and that rain and that flooding force of water, showed the universal element of Water in a dynamic motion and in a potential energy. Maybe we can say they are a reflection of the ultimate energy that we call God, or Allah, or other names that the many people in the world call this Energy. And in the middle of all this we usually call on God for help! While at the same time, of course we need to make some effort ourselves.
People around here are very resourceful and we generally don’t sit around waiting for help to come. We are busy, industrious people here. And after the storm has passed getting up and helping others is what we can see all around, families helping each other, neighbors and friends. For those who made emergency preparations the effects were not as damaging, and for those who lost roads, power, and whose neighbors left them, others were ready to help.
After the emergency you can see people enjoying working together in a way they would not normally do. New relationships are made, new offers of generosity. In this way a community can get closer and more independent. If we learn to recognize these new connections in the local communities and build on them, then at least one positive result can come from the disaster.
So if the disaster can shape our communities for the better, shouldn’t we also allow it to shape our landscape and infrastructure too? Here the water clearly showed where it needs to flow at this time. When the process of rebuilding comes, we must ask ourselves the question, should we really rebuild in the same place and in the same way? Won’t we just be setting ourselves up for another disaster with the next tropical storm or global climate change event? You can be sure that insurance companies will continue to call it a “natural disaster” or an “act of God” and bring in more exclusion clauses to avoid paying for the damages. This year even FEMA is beginning to have limited funds to spend, while the economy is heavily in debt and it is harder for cities and counties to raise extra money.
Shouldn’t we be listening to the message in the storm and learning from it about how to rebuild, not simply stronger but also more in harmony with its message? Of course this cannot be done in one easy step. But to be willing to change how things should be built or how things should look is a must. For example, if a house always gets flooded when the storm is severe, something needs to change…..and it is not going to be the storm. A washed out road clearly shows the size of ditch needed for the water to flow and what size of rocks need to be in the ditch not to get washed away, if all else remains the same. I mean what a great lesson! After the pain of seeing the road, materials and all the work of creating it washed away, there is a clear performance specification for “road in flood zone” defined. This is a useful and tangible result, which could be immediately put in place and which acknowledges both the destructive and the constructive aspects of the flooding water. Then perhaps these moments will become useful knowledge for the next generation.
Obviously when there is great suffering and loss of human life, we cannot say there is a positive side to this. But my question is did those people suffer in vain, or does their sacrifice carry some meaning? Surely if we rebuild everything the same as it was, it is a disrespect to those people. When we learn respect for that force in the water of the hurricane, we also respect those who lost out to it. If we don’t rebuild the house that collapsed in the same way, but learn a lesson to change, a point of empathy is found. Ultimately there is no one perfect solution to going through climate change because that is the nature of change. But as far as possible in our every action we must find that point of empathy, and act in harmony with it.
At the very least one should have an emergency back-pack ready with 5 essential items, a knife, a string/rope, and cover/tarp, something for making fire, a container for liquids (tin cup for hot, other for cold).
Ultimately a surfer may be the only one able for some moments to exist in tune with a full on tidal wave.