Irma, Algebra, and the Four-Letter F-Word


No, not that one.


Like the insane swirling winds of Hurricane Irma, fear wreaks havoc with the entirety of our mind, body, and spirit.

We’ve come to know all of the players on the Weather Channel, as we binge watched Irma’s next move with the fervor of our favorite Netflix series. The alarming sounds of the tones played as each meteorologist cues up to give the latest dire report added to our psychological and physiological distress.

We looked nervously at our windows and doors and tried to calculate in our heads: “If the vortex of Irma is moving at 16mph and expects to hit landfall on the Gulf Coast of Florida with 150+mph winds and a projected storm surge of 9-12 feet, how much plywood do we need and how high should we raise stuff from the floor?”

Neither of us were very good at those math brain teasers.

Like practicing Algebra in high school to give us daily exercises in problem solving for our future careers, we practiced preparedness as if this were our jobs. We secured as best we could. Even though we jumpstarted our preparations of flashlights, generator, plywood, Tap Cons, metal braces, water, food, animal supplies, and packing, it took 5 days.

We bordered up the windows on our concrete block home. In bins and a waterproof safe, we packed small valuables, old photos, pet supplies for two dogs, two cats, food and clothing for family members for all for 3 days, awesome flashlights that illuminate two entire rooms with one flashlight (!), and just for a sense of normalcy: a Packer outfit for our Shih Tzu, Lambeau, even though we wouldn’t watch the game.

The attempt to maintain emotional normalcy might test even the highly-enlightened Eckhart Tolle’s of the world, because keeping fear in check was the most difficult preparation task we endured.

We reflected on what fear does to people. On Sunday afternoon, in our condominium shelter with our two elderly family members, a resident came around the corner as we returned from taking our dogs out for the last time. She eyed our (working) son’s service dog—a King German Shepard. “You can’t have dogs here,” she snapped. “I’m calling security.”

Before we responded, we paused and recognized that her fear manifested itself in anger as a way to control that which she was—in that moment—unable to control. Yes, Irma’s 150+ forecasted winds, headed right for us on the Gulf Coast of Florida, were out of control.

It’s common for people to have the impulse to control their external environment when their internal environment has run amok.

We wanted to explain to the woman that we all currently resided in Maslow’s basement, the pure, unfiltered area where basic survival is essential. Level 2 of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is Safety. We wanted to climb that pyramid—fast.

Mentally and emotionally, we wanted to get to level 3 of Maslow’s Hierarchy: Love and Belonging. Couldn’t we all come together, we thought, and pool our collective coping skills that included reassurances, letting go of control, and a heaping dose of gratitude that we were safe on the 4th floor?

We practiced it. We prayed for safety. Let go of worrying about possessions, even though we hoped to return to a home that could withstand Mother Nature’s having her way with us.

In a hallway next to the elevators, and hunkered down in interior spaces within the condo, we cleared the interior spaces in our heads. We sorted though the important, the valuable, the cherished: the human and animal lives we love. That was it.

And while Irma howled and raged her screeching winds, the voices in our heads prayed louder.

We didn’t mind at all that we over-prepared and Irma under-delivered. A tree down, zillions of branches all over, no power for 24 hours, a house intact, and incredible prayers from friends all over the world?

Heck yeah. We were, and are blessed.

x + y = z.

If x is preparedness, and y is prayers, z can only be gratitude. And we are forever grateful.

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Poppy and Geoff Spencer