Care to take a guess?
Is it someone who didn’t evacuate prior to the storms and rode them out on their rock? Is it someone who has stayed on their rock post-storm, enduring the hardship of life in the rubble? Or is it someone who has returned to their rock to live post-storm and rebuild, no matter how destroyed their island is?
Here’s the answer:
All of these are wrong.
Guess what’s even more wrong than the answers? The question, in the first place.
We’ve got to talk, people. It’s time for an Island Family Meeting. Or maybe that sounds too heavy. An Interfriendtion, maybe?
I’ve seen a lot of islander-on-islander crime on the interwebs lately and frankly, it’s got to stop.
There’s been a ton of unpredictable crap that has come out of the recent hurricanes, one of which is something many are suffering from – a condition I have dubbed Hurricane Rage. And guess what? I have it too.
Hurricane Rage is an expression of the deep sense of loss and trauma that everyone who has been touched by the recent storms is experiencing to varying degrees. While we often expect to feel unwavering sadness in the wake of such devastation, anger is also a very real and likely emotion that accompanies grief.
I know many who are still on their demolished islands post-hurricane who are angry because they feel deserted by their fellow islanders who have evacuated and/or have not returned home. I know many are angry because they feel like no one is helping them and the world has forgotten their island. I know many who are displaced by the storms and are angry that they cannot be where they feel their heart is – on their rock. I know many who are angry because this has landed them in a financial mess they did not plan for. I know many who are angry that the island life they had so carefully cultivated no longer exists.
I’m angry too. I’m angry that my life basically exploded out of nowhere. I’m angry that my friends are strewn about the globe and that we may never be together in the same place again. I’m angry that I’m now living my life in limbo, having to make choices and new plans for my life that I previously had no intention of even considering. I’ve been living in other people’s homes, moving around for the past 6+ weeks and no matter how hospitable everyone is (and they have been – I’m seriously bowled over in gratitude over how much love has been thrown my way), I’m still angry that I do not have a home of my own. I’m angry over petty, inconsequential things. I’m angry to not have the clothes I want, to not have my body pillow that keeps my back from aching every night when I sleep, to not be seated at my favorite desk to work each day. I’m angry because I should be doing more, complaining less, appreciating more when so many others are suffering so much… and I’m simply not. The pity party I feel in my soul makes me angry. And ashamed. I’m angry that my fellow islanders feel the right to judge me for not being back on my rock, adding to my guilt, however indirectly this judgement is reaching me. I’m angry that I’m angry.
Which brings us to the debate that seems to be taking place on all of the effected islands these days, the one over who should be allowed to be considered a “real islander” post-hurricane – and who should not.
One of the manifestations of channeling this rage has been islanders treating each other like garbage. There’s been a lot of judgment circling around over other peoples’ life decisions and reactions to the storms. I’ve seen name-calling, passive aggressive commenting, and other forms of shaming posted on island community boards, blogs, and elsewhere both online and off.
It’s an exacerbated attempt of The Tribunal of Island Judgmentary (if you haven’t read about them, feel free to click the link to the original post) to bring others down and in turn, elevate their own standing. It’s real and it’s complete bullshit.
This whole ridiculous situation is much like one in which several people who have all lost their arms argue over who has it worse. Is it the person who lost their arm at the elbow? Or is it the person who lost it mid-forearm? Or is the person who only has a nub under the shoulder remaining?
What I believe we need now in place of all this condemnation and loss comparison is radical generosity of spirit and a resistance to judge the reactions and paths of others.
Compassion. Empathy. Kindness.
These are uncertain, unprecedented times and most everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve been handed. And let’s be real – we’ve all been handed a shit sandwich of a life situation that none of us ordered at the counter.
Believe me – I completely understand the betrayal that you might be feeling as a person who is fully immersed in post-hurricane life. You are going through a nightmare that you aren’t able to wake up from each morning, and thinking of fellow islanders abroad who have access to clean beds and running water makes you angry. But saying things like “those who aren’t here dealing with the aftermath aren’t welcome back when things are rebuilt” isn’t just unhelpful, it’s unnecessarily cruel.
Life is sad enough these days without adding guilt and rejection on top of it all.
Sometimes people can’t stay on their island, sometimes they don’t want to. This is a personal choice that I don’t think merits commentary from others. If someone doesn’t want to move back simply because they don’t want to live in a disaster zone, this does not make them a bad person. They owe no one an explanation. It is a choice (an immensely difficult choice, no doubt) they had to make for themselves.
We have all been hurt in our own ways – whether it was losing our homes, our livelihoods, or simply our dreams of what our island life was supposed to be. Even the tourists who look forward to their one week of the year on your island as the bright spot in their lives elsewhere are entitled to their grief.
And let’s not forget that some people are doing far more for their islands from afar than they ever could if they were stationed on their rock. The fact that anyone wants to criticize that or disparage them for not being there is just plain sad.
I know your heart is hurting. My heart is hurting too. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes – but we have a choice in how we choose to move forward as an island community that need not include hurting others.
There is no such thing as a “real islander.” If you live on an island, if you used to live on an island, if you’ve been touched by an island, or if you simply feel like on an island is where you belong – you’re an islander in my book. It doesn’t matter if you stayed for the storms, if you evacuated, if you’re unable to go back, if you’re still there. We all have to make choices that are best for us on an individual basis, choices that are best for our families, and choices that are best for our communities.
Loving one another will get us much further than being divisive in an “Us vs Them” or “Real Islander vs Fake Islander” mentality.
Let’s make room to heal our islands without having to break one another down in the process. There isn’t time for that and our energy can be better directed elsewhere.
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Is this an island issue that speaks to you too? How do you think we can overcome this mentality going forward?