Jessica Morgan McAtee
How Storms Transform
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
My husband and I spend our summers in his hometown in Oregon. It is lovely and quiet and we live simply in the woods. Typically, being a city girl from south Florida, about half way through our summer, I am happily thinking of getting back to my Sunshine State. But this year was different. I had an unusually ominous feeling about returning. We typically get there in July and leave in October, but by the end of July I was not looking forward to the fall. Oddly, the thought of it made my stomach turn.
I shared this with my husband and prayed about it and journaled. I didn't know why I felt such a dark resistance to getting back, but I felt it viscerally. I love my Florida, but something told me returning was going to be difficult.
I had no idea what we were in for.
In late September Hurricane Ian approached Florida's peninsula. Though it was still seven days out, I began praying and mentally bracing for impact from our northwest encampment. The weather experts had it directly hitting the Tampa area, but I lived through Hurricane Andrew in the 90s and knew that hurricanes never hit where the weather people say they will. At the time, I didn't connect the storm with my evil forebodings, but in retrospect, Ian was the monster I was sensing.
The day of the storm, September 28, 2022, was surreal. I sat helpless in my Oregon tiny house and texted with loved ones as a massive category 4, nearly category 5, pulverized our homes. Fortunately, my parents, who lived in Ft. Myers Beach, had evacuated to Florida's east coast, a move that likely saved their lives. Yet, I had many friends who stayed through the storm. Traumatic is an understatement.
We had just purchased our home in Fort Myers only nine months earlier. Though we live ten miles inland, we live by the river and it overflowed it's banks and flooded our new home. The damage was extensive and the mess was unimaginable.
Our house flooded twenty-one inches in the exterior and garage and fifteen inches throughout the interior. All of our appliances had water in them. We lost family heirlooms and art. Books were destroyed. Our photos and notes and cherished letters from the departed were all ruined if they were on lower shelves or containers. We hadn't unpacked all of our boxes from the move and being cardboard, they collapsed in the flood and toppled into the muck. Anything that could float relocated. Our home was caked in mud, we had no electricity and it was overwhelming.
Worse, my parents lost their home. The storm surge at their place flooded to the ceiling. Being by the water meant boats were everywhere, roads were impassible, many who didn't evacuate didn't survive and the devastation was unthinkable. They immediately moved into our place which was substandard, but better than nothing. They warned us of the nightmare we were returning to.
It takes us at least a week to drive from Oregon to Florida, and this year the drive was stressful. We were not sure what to expect (the photos above were sent to us from my parents). I cried for the first few days, and then it occurred to me that I had some decisions to make about how I faced this dragon and the impending doom we were returning to.
I am an Enneagram Life Coach. I get paid to remind people that we can do tough things. I know how the brain works and how happiness is generated by making progress towards a valued goal or ideal. Challenges are the soil where deep fulfillment grows. By integrating our latest tragedy, we become everything we were previously, plus more, which is always more robust, well-rounded and better. When life is a disaster, we can do the smallest thing we can manage that moves us in the right direction and in time, daily small tasks add up to big progress. It's one day at a time and always onward.
On the other hand, I know the ways we get stuck and self-defeat. We could choose to be victims and whine about how unfair life is. At every intersection we have choices to make. I decided that rather than run from this dragon, I was going to willingly face it head on. I was going to be brave. I wouldn't resist it but I would boldly go through it. I accept my lot and I will rise to the occasion. Life is hard...for everyone. When you live in Florida, you may get hit by a hurricane. This is part of my hard and I am equipped to do it. And that was a turning point, even before we stepped foot back in Florida. Bring it!
As we drove long hours towards the southeast, my husband and I excitedly brainstormed about how we could make the home more flood-resistant than it was before. He is an engineer and builder and I am a dreamer and strategist, so we put our best thinking to work and discussed how we would improve the house, room by room. This included more tile and less wood flooring and no more drywall on the bottom halves of walls but instead, water-resistant materials.
As part of my duty, I knew that I would have to do plenty of unenjoyable grunt work and dirty construction. It is only fair. My husband is generally our solo handy-man and maintenance crew, but it would take him months to do this alone. After all, I want my house back quickly. My offering was that I would be my husband's building assistant. Though my limited strength and lousy skills are probably comparable to a 13 year old boy. Yet, it's better to have a boy helper than no helper, so that was my resolve.
We returned to a massive mess. We didn't have surfaces, or places to unpack because the house was so filthy. Most of our furniture and many of our belongings were tossed to the curb. It was sad but we did it. Then we got to work, just doing the next right thing in front of us. Our live-in parents contributed greatly as Dad cleaned and re-screened our pool enclosure and Mom did laundry, cleaning and housework.
The storm hit exactly three months ago today and our progress is outstanding. We are farther along than we expected. We have painted, repaired the walls (drywall had to go due to mold), creatively salvaged some furniture and got the bedrooms back to normal. We have completed three of the six major rooms and still have a ways to go. I have learned how to drain and re-surface a pool, grout pool tile, tile floors, remove mold, recover furniture, order supplies, lay wood flooring and let things go.
The electricity at my parent's home in Ft. Myers beach was restored within the last two weeks, which makes rebuilding easier. Dad is there every day from dawn until dusk rebuilding their lives, but they still stay with us for now. We will be helping them as needed. They hope to return to their home one day soon, but their recovery effort is far more involved than ours.
Kelly and I still have lots of work to do on the roof, kitchen, dining room and living room and the bathrooms. But, we have a plan and we make daily progress, which releases dopamine, motivates us and gives us a sense of accomplishment because we can do hard things.
As for the evil forebodings, I am not sure what to make of them. Did I really sense this storm and if so how and why? I don't have any answers. Yet, I do know that hurricanes no longer scare me. We can be happy and content wherever we are in life. Stuff doesn't matter, family does. Daily progress is the key to staying motivated and we can all do hard things.
Like a Butterfly,