Like most of us, I get all my news on social media these days. I rarely watch television news or pick up a newspaper, so I rely on Facebook and Twitter to keep me up-to-date with what’s going on in the world. I also use social media to keep on top of what’s going on with my friends. I see who is traveling where, who is unhappy with their latest haircut, and whose child is struggling in school.
But lately, the trivialities of Facebook have been eclipsed by the natural disasters that have befallen many parts of the U.S. and Caribbean. I find myself scrolling through my newsfeed some days, and often wishing for a rant about someone’s salon nightmare or a cat video. Just a few weeks ago, Harvey hit my beloved home state of Texas, destroying homes in the costal bend region. We were still reeling from Harvey when our friends in Florida were trying to decide whether to run from Irma’s path or batten down the hatches and hope for the best. And now, American citizens in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico are dealing with what’s been termed “apocalyptic levels of devastation.”
Many of my friends who live along the Texas Gulf Coast are still recovering and trying to decide what their rebuilding plans are going to be. Schools in Port Aransas just re-opened last week, and families are trying to resume some form of normalcy in the wake of disaster. But as I’ve scoured the Internet for news of Maria these last few days, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be until families in Puerto Rico can even think about normalcy.
My Floridian friends have been posting status updates about “Irma cleanup” and insurance claims. I’m saddened to see losses, and yet encouraged at the resiliency and sense of community all around, as people muck out their houses, make repairs, and try to get on with life. Because what else can they do?
Today, I’m sitting in my dry and comfortable house reading about the destruction Maria has left in Puerto Rico. I’m scrolling through my newsfeed feeling helpless and imagining what life is like right now for the families on the ground there. My biggest problem today is that my dishwasher won’t seal properly and my legs hurt because I overdid it at the gym.
Most of Puerto Rico is without electrical power. One of the few hospitals with a working generator is running out of fuel. Medical supplies are dwindling and there is no running water. We have to hope that the level of help and supplies needed to make an impact are on their way, but with many roads destroyed, there’s the worry that the supplies aren’t going to reach those in need. Phone lines are down and cell service is spotty, so anyone who has loved ones in Puerto Rico is probably pacing and refreshing their social media feeds and their email, in the hopes that they’ll hear something.
Hurricane Harvey missed the area where I lived by about 30 miles. We prepared for the worst and we were lucky. I watched and waited and refreshed for news of my friends in Houston and the coastal areas just like I waited anxiously for news of my friends in Florida after Irma’s landfall. Real people that I care about were in the path of both of those vicious storms, and for the most part, the people I know and care about suffered minor damage, when you stack it up against what could have happened. They were lucky, too.
I don’t know anyone who lives in Puerto Rico. If I have a friend or relative that’s been traveling to that area, I’m unaware. There’s no one on the island that I have a personal connection to.
And yet, my heart still hurts.
Because it’s not just another news story. Because there are real people who have lost their homes and are at risk. Because the response to Harvey and Irma was impressive and the suggestion that enough wasn’t being done to help wasn’t there.
This feels different.
Maybe it’s because Puerto Rico is an island, and getting supplies to those who need them presents more of a logistical challenge. Maybe it’s because Puerto Rico’s electrical grid is old and maybe beyond repair, and just “turning the power back on” isn’t that simple. Maybe it’s the suggestion that the power of FEMA isn’t responding as fast as it the people of Puerto Rico need.
Maybe it’s the fact the people impacted by Maria are real people, just like my neighbors in Houston. Just like my friends in Florida.
They are more than just another news story. They are American citizens who are in peril, and I can’t do anything to help them, other than to give money to the Red Cross and UNICEF. Along with praying and worrying; with feeling helpless and useless.
As I sit in my comfortable, dry home, I realize I have nothing to complain about. I’m embarrassed about my level of annoyance over my broken dishwasher. There are families tonight that are stranded in apartment houses with the roofs blown off. Children are exposed to the elements, babies are without diapers, and moms who are probably trying to keep a brave face while wondering where their next meal is going to come from.
The near-miss of Harvey and the way I’ve seen my community come together to help people impacted by disaster has forever changed me. I know when I go to bed tonight, I’ll still be thinking about the families in Puerto Rico who are facing so much uncertainty right now. I’ll think about my kids tucked in their warm beds with full bellies and yes, I’ll realize that we’re lucky but no, I won’t stop thinking about those who aren’t.
Neither should you.