Hurricane Irma entered the Florida ring like a heavyweight prizefighter bent on a knockout. For some of us who rode out the storm’s most intense flurry of punches, there were times when we were unsure of our corner when the bell rang for a brief respite. There were millions of knock downs all over the state: power poles, trees, cell antennas, billboards, fences, homes and offices.
But Irma, for all her fury, couldn’t knock us out.
Not us. Not Florida.
At the last minute, my large family and I hit the road, driving through the early morning hours and all day on Saturday to reach family and friends in Tabor City, North Carolina. We’re not in an evacuation zone, but there are young grandchildren and some kids with tough past experiences to consider. It seemed like the best thing to do.
We came back Tuesday, joining the masses of returning evacuees hoping to find their homes intact (and an open gas station along the way). Also in our slow-moving ranks: dozens of utility company trucks and National Guard vehicles from everywhere, coming to lend a hand.
The drive was interminable. But the attitudes and actions of those we encountered were championship caliber.
No one should ever wish for a storm like Irma to come their way (or anyone’s way). Lives have been lost, billions of dollars of property damaged or destroyed, memories permanently scarred by the roaring winds, slashing rains, and surging waves of Irma. As I write, dozens of shelters remain open across the state and we mourn the deaths of more than 30 residents.
But there is something about this stormy period, and these events, that transcends the many divisions that often loom so large in our state. Age, race, religion, party, ideology . . . for all that these traits divide us, we have been united in our common struggle, first to survive, now to thrive, despite everything that the hurricane heavyweight threw at us.
We are Florida.
Knock us down, we’ll bounce back up. We always have. We always will.
The close cooperation of municipal, county, state and federal teams, together with charitable organizations and for-profit companies committed to responding to the crisis, has been inspiring to behold. There have been glitches, of course. We’re all human.
But we’ve chosen to collaborate closely, rather than to close each other out or work at cross purposes. Like the millions of neighbors and strangers across this state, we have pulled together, ensuring each other’s safety, providing care and comfort.
United by adversity, we’ve discovered something:
We can work together.
Working together, we can get things done.
By getting things done, we can protect each other, help each other and celebrate our shared successes.
This is who we really are.
We are Florida.
And nothing can knock us out.