The lesson from Hurricane Matthew

St. Augustine, Florida — “Boy, one big bubba truck riding down the road could have swamped her,” the friend said. I was telling him about my mother’s house in downtown St. Augustine. When I got back into St. Augustine early Saturday morning — cutting down a side street clogged with debris and garbage and tree branches — I pulled into her driveway and shined a light through her door to see twinkling cat eyes staring at me. Then I noticed the high water line along the siding.
 It’s where the flood waters stopped. Barely an inch from her doorway.

That was how close her house came to flooding. Had the storm jogged a few miles west — had that “bubba truck” ridden down Riberia Street — it would have been a different story.


She’s one of the lucky ones. I was, too, and my brother.

Take a drive through other streets downtown, or out to Davis Shores, or the beaches, and it’s an entirely different story. It’s a city and a county I can’t even recognize, filled with heartbreak, exhaustion and exasperation.

I went running through Davis Shores early Sunday morning. It’s one of my regular routes, but that morning it felt awkward. Uncomfortable. Like I shouldn’t be there. Like I was running through people’s living rooms — invading their personal privacy.

Because I was. Out by the road — like houses turned inside-out — were all of their water-logged belongings — sofas, TVs, picture frames, furniture, clothes, beds, books, appliances. I tried not to look as I ran. I felt ashamed for being there. A gawker or a sightseer. That it wasn’t my business to know what they owned — what they now had to toss out.

I also felt guilt. That I was out running when so many were hurting. I stopped at a house where someone was working and asked if I could help.

“Actually, I’m helping someone else,” he said. “But we’re OK.”

It made me want to do more.

A Facebook post from Zach Lively, a fellow Flagler College alumnus and a band member in The Wobbly Toms, told how he was sweeping and mopping his flooded house. “Then, I’ll be looking to help out other folks wherever I can. There’s a lot of decent people in the world,” he wrote.

I haven’t been able to get that post out of my mind.

We seem so polarized as a nation. Maybe it’s the political season, but the anger and division is palpable. Yet, this storm made me realize that just isn’t true. We still pull together and help one another. It’s just who we are.

A tree trimmer dispatched from Indiana was working on a massive oak that toppled on my street. He said he liked being able to come down and help out in disasters. “I feel blessed to be able to do it,” he said.

Blessed to be able to help? What a powerful thing to say.

We’re all a bit blessed right now. And as the lucky ones, it’s our chance to keep sharing it.

Originally published at