Recently, I realized something that surprised me, in fact it rocked me to my very core. What was it? Hurricanes and sanctuary actually have a lot in common. No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses. But on the heels of surviving Hurricane Irma, I feel I’m in a position to share those ridiculously crazy commonalities.
Last week, my family and I packed our dogs and most treasured belongings into our cars and headed north, as we watched Irma slam into the Bahamas, Barbuda and Cuba. We were well on our way out of town by the time it hit the Florida Keys but I will tell you that I learned something important during that time. Evacuating is nearly as stressful as staying put. That might sound absurd but I assure you it is true. Watching helplessly from afar as people and places you love, everything you have worked for and everything you own be threatened by the forces of nature is an experience not to be underestimated in the harrowing department.
My packing to leave was done in a state of rushed uncertainty and duress. My husband said it best: “By the time you know you have to evacuate, it’s too late. We have to decide now.” We made the decision to go and what happened next felt haphazard and harried. I felt a little out-of-my-body and dazed as we closed up the office, boarded up our home and tried to grab the things most dear to us to leave in time to beat the rush of traffic. I felt sick to my stomach as we drove out of town. In that moment, you wonder if you will ever be back there again, and if you do come back, what you will return to. It’s mind and spirit-numbing. I don’t recommend it. But then again, sometimes you can’t really avoid it either.
As a person who always tries to find the best in situations, I did try to make the most of it. We listened to music, joked, took the back roads when the highway was at a standstill with everyone and their brother evacuating along with us. We stopped for BBQ and tried to bring as much joy to the moments as we could. But the worry was there, like a dark shadow hanging just over my shoulder. At the end of the day, a trip that should have taken 10 hours took 19 and we arrived exhausted, strung out and in need of a stiff drink.
I had planned ahead enough to make us a reservation at a B&B in the mountains and amazingly, one of the owners waited up until 1:00 a.m. to let us in, show us around and welcome us to his home. How great is that?! I had also planned enough to tuck a bottle of my favorite scotch in the bags so we had that stiff drink as we unpacked. And as we unpacked a bit more, some simple magic began to unfold. Although we were rushed when we left, I managed to grab some of my favorite sanctuary tools. I fished them out of my bag and re-accessorized the sitting room of our suite. A whole big bag of various crystals, three candles, my favorite glass bottle of matches, a Bluetooth speaker for some soft music. I set up a picture frame of my kids when they were little and made a stack of the books I brought — sacred texts, books I’m studying, notebooks for my writing. I found my favorite writing felt-tip pen and a couple of bars of dark chocolate. NOW we were talking.
I felt my shoulders relax a tiny bit, I saw my husband smile for the first time in hours and he hugged me and thanked me for finding this place of sanctuary for us to go and weather out the storm together. The pups sniffed out every corner and we agreed it was way past time for bed. So we fell into bed and let the worries of the world wait for the following morning.
Throughout the following days there were times we couldn’t peel ourselves from the tv — it was horrifying. But we also had moments of peace. Moments of good sleep. Moments of calm clarity where we knew that on some level, everything was and would always be okay. Moments of realizing we were allowed to enjoy the mountains and to get out into nature which is always soothing to my ragged edges. Moments of being gentle with ourselves and simply resting and watching the way the leaves cast patterns on the mountainside as the sun streams through them.
When it was all over, we finally came back home to Naples. Going through the reentry process, I will admit that I was filled with overwhelming gratitude to be back in my personal sanctuary space. But being gone during that stressful time, knowing it was possible that our home could be destroyed and we could come home to a pile of rubble, was so humbling. I was so grateful our home was not only still standing but that everything was intact with only minor damage and clean-up to do.
But something significant occurred to me as we settled back into our life: the truest sense of sanctuary was living inside me as we were driving out of town. It wasn’t left behind me in my beautiful little cottage of a house. It was inside me as we lived in a B&B for a week as our hometown was devastated by this terrible storm. It was inside me as we lit candles, read and hiked so far from home. It was still inside me as we came back to Florida to discover what was left of our life, our home and our business.
In that moment of clarity, I also realized that the sense of sanctuary inside me would have been there regardless of what I found when I got home. It would have lived inside me if we would been met with devastation. It would have been there if we had to stay in the mountains for an additional week, month or even a year. Sanctuary is not just an external experience. At its quintessence, sanctuary is an internal state, it’s a mindset. It’s an approach to life that allows to you to find your center, find your personal sense of peace, in any situation. No storm, no natural disaster, truly nothing in the world can take that away from you.
What I’ve learned in these past two weeks is that whatever tempestuous times my life lays out before me, my own, calm “eye of the storm”, which is the quiet sanctuary deep inside me, will steer me back to myself. This has been the peculiar gift of Hurricane Irma and I am still unpacking it. So thank you, Irma. For this understanding, I will ever be grateful.
With oh so much love,