A Year After Maria

It has been a year.  A strange one for me for many reasons.  It was a slow year.  It was a fast year.  A strange year marked by life changing events that were forecast but never fully imagined.  Other changes were life following its course.  Nevertheless, the result was a year of forced change.

My mother passed away last year.  I was there for her last years, thank goodness.  A chapter closed for me and my family.  She was my main purpose in being in Puerto Rico so I was wondering what was next.  Then came Hurricane Maria on September 19, 2017.

It always bothers me that they say, September 20, when we all know that those terrible winds started battering the island already on the evening of the 19th.  The resulting wave of destruction prompted decisions, survival, reinvention, and reconstruction.   Like many other people dramatic decisions lay ahead.  Many lost their jobs in an instant since their work places were destroyed and their homes as well.  Life was disrupted in ways which seemed unfathomable.  It wasn't just waking up to leafless trees.  We can all handle that for a few weeks, in fact for months.   No, it was the total collapse of a much relied on infrastructure.  No electricity for practically the whole island.  Few had access to generators, but in my condo no generators were allowed.  - So there was no relief from the unbearable heat, no refrigeration, washing clothes by hand, reliance on canned food was sending people's blood pressure soaring.  Primary care doctors were not an option.  What would happen if I got ill? The hospitals were for those in a life or death crisis. It was too much.

I had survived that horrible hurricane, but would I survive the disastrous aftermath?  I almost felt as helpless as that fluttering curtain waving in the wind where the gales unhinged my locked sliding glass door and shattered the other.  God helped me through it.  My neighbors helped me through.  My family on the island was not communicating and though I tried to reach them twice, I was never able to catch them at home.  It was an emotional nightmare.  Fortunately, my neighbors were there for me in the essentials.

The reality of the situation required a decision.  Get out!

There was canned food, water, some propane to heat food, the basics- but the horror stories kept coming of people dying because they could not get dialysis or their meds. Constant barrage of news of destruction on the radio by exhausted radio DJ's.  Germ tainted water. Impassable roads. Muggings. Shootings. Medical care practically nonexistent.  Doctors using cellphone flashlights to do surgery.  Hours long lines to get cash.  Practically no phone service.  14 hour lines to get gas.  Unrelenting heat.  It all shouted GET OUT!

I was going to send for my son-- but no, I didn't have to.  MY DAUGHTERS and my friends helped me get out.  Their prayers, God's mercy, got me out.  I am fortunate.

I have been back and forth this whole year.  In December I started seeing visible change.  The electricity was getting back.  Everywhere you drove were US linemen's' pickups soaring down El Expreso Las Americas in the morning or stuck in traffic in the evening.   I even ran into a couple of them in the grocery store. It was nice to say, "thank you!" They beamed like heroes but you could tell it was putting a strain on them being away from home.

It was great to meet people at church sharing that their house, their street, their "urbanizacion,"had gotten power back.  The joy! We knew what it meant.  Air conditioning, a refrigerator buzzing, a washing machine spinning, fans roaring, a radio pumping music. Life was getting back to normal.

There were people still in the dark though.  As you flew into San Juan you could see how dark the interior part of the island was.  There were still some anxious stares and more traffic during the day.  Where did it come from?  It came from families coming down from the mountains to get supplies almost every day.  They had to come often because they had no way to store their food.

On the other hand,  I heard of Samaritan's Purse giving out generators to poor people in Villas Palmeras and Barrio Obrero.  The Salvation Army served over a million meals and saved Christmas for children around the island with the help of Kmart and Walmart, if I am not mistaken.  Chef Andres was still feeding many people around the island as well.  The government had teams of people going from town to town with much needed supplies, medical care, and even some entertainment.  Mission trips from the states and also friends from local churches including Christian Community Church, Second Union Church, and The Journey Mission also became means of distributing supplies, food, water, and hope to others on the island.  All this goodness came about as people responded to this disaster.   It gave me joy and I did as much as I could with friends and contributions.  You always wish you could do more.

The love doesn't stop there.  I have been blessed with my dear family and friends here in the States, so I am moving.  At first, I felt guilty because life is so incredibly easy in the States.  Central air conditioning, nice roads, medical services, and luxurious supermarkets.   Though I must say Pueblo has remodeled and looks very nice, but yeah, Wegman's is around the corner.  I finally recognized I didn't have the health to do the good I would like to do on the island.  Regardless of that, I still struggled. Was I making the right decision? My friends and church family tugged on my heart to go back to PR, but I have to regain my health.  Family is crucial for me at this time and I am grateful to have them.   Now,  I am struggling to find purpose and drive again.  A reason to improve my health, to get back into life again and to press in to make new friends.  But I think, I will be able to find all of that.  People are good and kind here, too!

I'm starting to get  used to my new surroundings of oak, maple, evergreens, and trees to which I know not their names.  The leaves are starting to fall.  Change of season.  I am adapting to living with my teenage granddaughters and to driving a different car, quite a bit more rusty than I am used to but I am thankful.  I am also getting used to the roads in this city with narrow elevated overpasses which I detest.  I have been facing my fears with scripture and prayer.... I smile.  This is good.  Then I have been pleasantly surprised with seeing unexpected things that bring me pleasure as well. So there is life here, too.  It may be easier in some respects but it has its challenges, too.   God is definitely here, too, in these liberal parts and I know there are beautiful things awaiting me.

But yeah, I have never moved fast.  So be patient with me yet.  "Llevame con calma que voy con prisa."  Take me calmly, because I am in a hurry-- meaning "don't rush me."

A Year After Maria, September 20th, 2018


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