SPECIAL TO THINK & ASK
After four hurricanes brought so much devastation to the state of Florida, where my father has a home, I've been telephoning repair technicians almost daily. My father lives in Florida nine months of the year, but he had the good fortune to ride out the storms from Maine, 1,500 miles north of the danger zone. He was lucky that, while his condominium did sustain some damage from two storms, the damage can be remedied with insurance coverage.
Writer Phyllis Edgerly lives in New Hampshire
I've been inquiring on his behalf and phoning and faxing to service providers who have now become friends of the family as I listen to their own stories of survival and thank them for providing me their unfailingly, kind help long-distance.
One fellow went to considerable effort to have my father’s air-conditioning turned on, despite his backup of work orders that could pave the road for his hour-long commute between Tampa and my father’s home. Flipping a switch may not seem like a big deal, but without the air on, no amount of work inside the home would ever dry out the waterlogged floor and walls or keep mildew from taking over the structure before my father returns for winter.
The man functioned on only two hours of sleep per day after the first hurricane (Charley) had hit, and with dozens of work orders, he still managed to get to my father’s home within hours of my call. The air-conditioning repair man was working more than 12-hour days every day of the week and his technicians were working 16- to 20-hour days. Both of those technicians lost their homes entirely—completely wiped out.
“It’s better for them [his employees] to be helping other people than thinking about what they've lost," the air-conditioning man told me. I couldn't even imagine how to respond. My father (at least) still had his home.
People in the path of the first hurricane were beyond disheartened. They were truly bewildered and demoralized. And then Frances hit. I was on the telephone with my father's insurance company again, the adjuster told me damage from Charley had barely been cleaned up or repaired, and that one claimant had lost power on 5 September, but remained without power. Her story is indicative of thousands of others in the state, "But at least I have a roof," she told me. That was before hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne.
While many folks I've worked with from afar to repair my father's home damage have been fortunate to incur little damage overall; their day-to-day life instead is turned upside-down as they continue to aid others. They’re drowning in the ceaseless tide of it all and have no family life, no leisure time, little sleep, and with increasing amazement they wonder how they'll get through the challenge. Insurance adjusters are in constant regrouping and reprioritizing mode as days grow longer out of their Tampa headquarters.
They continue to plug along -- a true testament to America's work ethic and integrity. I can testify that it is alive and well in Florida —and surprisingly, kind and patient —in the beleaguered Sunshine State.
During a Sunday telephone call to one repairman, I started the conversation with an apology; I’d assumed he kept the Lord's Day in the traditional sense.
“Oh, I’m working, because if this isn’t the Lord’s work, I don’t know what is,” he told me. “Sometimes, about the only way we can actually show each other that God hasn’t abandoned us in times like these is that we’re willing to help each other and do what we can, no matter how things are going. That’s how we show His face,” he said. It can, indeed, take some really dark times for the light of goodness to be able to show at all.
As I remember all of the kind, unhesitatingly helpful Floridians with whom I’m now on a first-name basis, their words stay with me. I know that plenty of religious communities—and individuals—are remembering Florida’s ongoing struggle in their prayers. And I know that there’s sometimes very little we can do directly in circumstances like these.
But the folks I’ve come to know through remote communication have sure reminded me what we can do as individuals every day, everywhere, even when things can look absolutely hopeless. And how essentially undignified it is when we do less, or focus only on our own hardships. I’m humbled by their fortitude and grace, and I am sure praying that their long-overdue relief comes soon. I thank them most humbly.