By Christy Gualtieri
The hurricane had been raging for hours. We couldn’t see very much outside on account of the plywood boards my parents had put up to stop the windows from blowing in; but from what I could see, the rain was coming in absolutely sideways – like something out of a blockbuster movie. The palm trees were bent over and pushed relentlessly by the wind, and as my parents and brothers and I huddled beneath a queen-sized mattress in our dining room, we heard the terrible screaming of the wind. There was an awful noise – this screeching noise – in the kitchen behind us, which turned out to be our refrigerator physically moving from its place against the wall to the middle of the room.
It was the middle of the night. As the sun rose and the storm ended, we were so relieved to hear a knock on the door, and the sound of my uncle’s voice, calling to us to see if we were all right.
We got up from beneath the mattress and when we got to the front door, were greeted with an almost apocalyptic sight: a flooded street, trees completely uprooted, even from beneath the sidewalks, a large tree down in our front yard. Our house was still standing, but the home two doors down from us was not – it was complete rubble. Part of our garage door had been blown away, leaving the inside of the garage soaked, palm fronds strewn everywhere. My bedroom, too, had been damaged when the plywood had fallen off and the window had burst – but remarkably, we were all okay. We were safe.
That was Hurricane Andrew, in 1992. This past weekend’s storm – Hurricane Irma was so much bigger. Hurricane Harvey left so much devastation in its wake in Texas just a couple of weeks ago – unspeakable flooding, terror, and decimation.
Disasters like this can leave us with such a sense of helplessness. The folks right in the middle of the storm are powerless to do anything against such a force of nature that they confront head on, and the people who are farther away, glued to the television and the Internet for updates feel as though they can’t do much so many miles from the storm. As I read about Harvey and worried about Irma (and my family, still directly in its path) I found myself still feeling the way I did as a frightened twelve-year old dealing with the aftermath of such a terrible storm, not sure at all of what I could – and what I should – do.
Here in the greater Pittsburgh area, there are few other people that symbolize compassion, peace, and love more than Fred Rogers, the creator of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. He knew that it was imperative for young children to feel safe and secure if they were to grow up to be healthy adults. It was also his show’s mission to speak about topics that were painful, difficult, and uncomfortable in a gentle way so that his young viewers were able to understand them.
In an interview later in his life, he stressed the importance of “looking for the helpers” during catastrophic events:
“You know, my mother used to say, a long time ago, whenever there would be any really big catastrophe that was in the movies or on the air, she would say, ‘Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers. Just on the sidelines.’ That’s why I think that if news programs could make a conscious effort of showing rescue teams, of showing anybody who is coming into a place to where there’s a tragedy, to be sure that they include that, because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”
I find it such a comfort to know that I can be a helper in situations like these, that I can provide home, as small as it can seem.
And it does matter. A few days after Hurricane Andrew hit, my family and I drove down to the town of Homestead, FL, which was absolutely devastated by the storm — there was precious little left of homes, possessions, everything. We found a family there with young children. We brought them supplies and played with their kids. We were suffering, but they had it so much worse than we did. So we did what we could to help, and it was a help.
I am many states and many, many more miles away from hurricanes these days. But my capacity to help is still great – and yours, too. If you find yourself moved by the horrible tragedies these multiple storms have caused, please do what you can to reach out. It may feel like you’re doing nothing at all, but I promise, what you can give matters so much.
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117.