Ten years ago my family and I survived ground zero of a Category 4 hurricane in Southwest Florida. Part 1 of the story here.
I was 23 years old when Hurricane Charley crashed into my life. The year before I had purchased my first car all by myself – that perfectly polished silver Honda Civic was my “baby”. I lived in a cute 2-bedroom condo a mile from the Gulf Coast. I worked for my Dad’s ministry during the week, and also hosted a live talk show for young adults on the EWTN Radio Network. My job was fun and exciting – especially the on-air part.
On the weekends I took a book to the beach to soak in some rays, then went to the mall to shop the latest fashions. I ate Thai food with girlfriends at the most authentic dive restaurant around the corner, and watched most of the big release summer movies with my sisters at the mall Regal Cinema. I wore jean skirts and straw cowboy hats to summer concerts at the local stadium, sipping a cold one as we swayed back and forth and belted out the lyrics to our favorite country tunes.
All of that was on top of the amazing things I never noticed: running water, flushing toilets, gas for my car, electricity, drywall and insulation that guaranteed my air conditioning would stay at the perfect temp. Life was good. And it was very, very comfortable.
And then Hurricane Charley happened.
A large oak tree fell on my Honda during the storm. The roof blew away on my second story condo, and the torrential rains that followed the storm brought the drywall crashing down in a sea of pink popcorn insulation on everything this still-wet-behind-the-ears collage grad owned.
I remember about a week after the storm taking a duffel bag full of my clothes to a friends’ house about 30 minutes north, and washing my favorite clothes with triple rinse cycles in her laundry room in a desperate attempt to get the insulation shards out of them. But wet insulation doesn’t go away once it’s touched fabric. My favorite shirts and dresses and skirts and jeans all had to go in the trash dumpster parked outside my condo unit, along with everything else from my bedroom and closet.
It was a painful lesson for someone like me living such a sheltered, comfortable, easy life, but Hurricane Charley taught me the hard way:
Stuff is not what’s important. The important things are faith and people.
Sometimes it takes something big to shake us hard, to make us free enough to see how very little everything else matters…how you would give it all in a heartbeat, without blinking, in order to guarantee that you could still hold onto what’s important.
Your grandmother’s silver, your great-aunt’s China, your bedroom set that you inherited from your parents. Pictures from when you were a baby. Your wedding video. Your wedding dress. The baptismal gown that’s been passed down for generations. The family Bible. The necklace he gave you on your first anniversary….
All of those things or whatever items you hold dear in your heart are good and wonderful and beautiful and right. But in the grand scheme of life, even these good things don’t really matter. What matters is your faith, your friends, and your family. They are the only things you can take with you into eternity. They are the only ones you cannot replace after a storm.
The purging, the stripping away, the losing of “stuff” was hard and painful, but it was good for me. It was a waking-up experience to the reality of what really matters.
Faith and People.
You can replace and rebuild anything else, but faith and people are the once in a lifetime, irreplaceable treasures.
Tomorrow – the biggest lesson Hurricane Charley taught me. A lesson that would shape my life, my future marriage and my motherhood.