Remembering Katrina, Facing Erika

Remembering Katrina, Facing Erika

It seems an odd coincidence of the season that we find ourselves remembering Hurricane Katrina 10 years back, bailing out from an overwhelming “no name” storm that dumped feet of rain over three weeks upon most of Tampa Bay and some areas north, and watching with some anxiety the moving track of Erika, whose potential remains as uncertain as her path.

Hurricane Katrina continues to remind us both of the extraordinary fury of nature unleashed and the failings of our human response in the face of disaster. Remembering, and watching the afternoon storm roll in, my mind drifts back to the words of a rebel whose last name, if not his lineage, I share. Words written when human disaster threatened his city, and many a neighbor simply turned a blind eye or hoped (a hope that certainly would have proven to be in vain) that the disaster would spare them.

Thomas Paine was never shy when it came to speaking his mind. His pamphlets and broadsides were inflammatory . . . and inspiring. Even today, when we do not face an invading army, nor the immediate loss of our liberty, his words can inspire us to what, regardless of the threat, is the highest expression of our humanity: willing sacrifice of our time, our talent and our treasure for our brothers and sisters in need.

So . . . whether in anticipation of the troubles Erika will bring, or in remembrance of those wrought by Katrina a decade ago, I will borrow and adapt Paine’s words to our own situation:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from service of our state; but those who stand with each other now deserve the love and thanks of man and woman. A tropical storm, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we retain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

Whether the disaster was declared too soon, or delayed too long, I will not now enter into as an argument. Having become accustomed to tropical peace, we did not make a proper use of last winter, nor perhaps could we, given our weakened economic state. However, the fault, if it were one, was all our own: we have none to blame but ourselves. But no great deal is lost yet. All that Erika might do in these days ahead is rather a ravage than a conquest, which time and a little resolution will soon recover.

‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and people to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. They sift out the hidden thoughts of men and women, and hold them up in public to the world.

I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this county or that city, but on every community: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much support than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the stifling heat of summer, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the cities and the counties, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to triumph over it.

I love the one that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but the one whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves what conduct is chosen, will pursue what is good without relenting.

As need arises, may we all, individually and collectively, be patriots in the cause of our people, proving Florida more than a Sunshine State, proving it to be a state in which men and women stand together in times of trial, without fear, for the good of all.