Before and After

Thanks-Giving: Crisis, Realization of Impermanence, Blossoming Community… Whaaat?

November 25, 2019

3 minute read - lifetime of reflection

Abacos, Bahamas

The Stoics teach us that everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable… because it won’t last. Impermanent was the word they used.

On September 1, 2019 Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the northern Bahamas province of the Abacos with sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts recorded at 220 mph. (As sailors we term anything over 35 kts a “gale”). That force wind had never been recorded in the Bahamas. After making landfall, Dorian slowed down to 5 mph and hovered on top of the Abacos for three full days. Bahamians have lived hurricanes; over the last fifty years there has been Betsy, Andrew, Floyd, and Frances. No one alive has ever seen anything like Dorian. Experts estimate that 100,000 people are homeless (Bahamas population is 400,000). Damage is estimated at $7 billion (Bahamas Government annual budget is $2.5 billion).

Knowing I speak with my friends in the Abacos daily, and that I personally returned from a week on the ground there, many of you have asked me my reflections about it—so I will share a couple of musings.

The physical destruction is so far beyond “extensive” or “traumatic” than can be realized from photos or videos, even if examined closely and repeatedly, it’s…heartbreaking.

Not a single building was spared in Marsh Harbour (the commercial hub of the Abacos where many travelers fly into) that I saw. Cars are capsized in the harbor and boats are capsized in the streets. No electrical power. No hope of electrical power since the Bahamas Power & Light generating plant went the way of Dorothy and Toto. Without electrical power, there’s no fresh water for drinking, washing, or flushing waste. (Marsh Harbour currently has a donated skid-based de-salinator running with a self-contained generator at which you can fill containers of water).

The most effective way I might help you to imagine it is to look at the ceiling and close your eyes. Now picture your home or building you live in, and visualize Mother Nature picking it up, peeling the roof off, and shaking it upside down until the contents are strewn all over your yard and everyone else’s yard for a mile down the street. Now picture everyone else’s home’s contents shaken out on top of yours up and down the street. All your belongings, light fixtures, the washer and dryer, Grandma’s underclothes, all your books, blankets and quilts, pictures on the wall, kids’ toys, pots and pans – and everything – everything permeated by mold and mildew from days of tropical rain following Dorian, followed by the normal tropical heat of September.

Debris
Main Road

Many active cruising sailors, rugged adventurers, and independent-minded second home owners are familiar with the Out Islands as a slow changing place of sanctuary and simplicity. The Out Island we call home is reached only by boat from Marsh Harbour. But the private boats are sunk. The ferries are all sunk. There are no more docks. No shade from the sun because there are no trees (there are a few trunks left standing or broken off halfway up). Thousands and thousands of tons of debris that needs to get moved off the roads, out of the public spaces, out of the walkways and yards so that people can rig tarps over their homes, find their belongings, and live.

Except that the physical destruction is not “the real story” here.

Look, it could have gone either way on September 4. Bahamians could have evacuated in force to the U.S. or to Nassau, get focused on their own personal survival and re-start building a life. Their government is completely overwhelmed and MIA. There would be no blame if individuals put their personal and family survival first and turned the key on their little island. But that’s not what happened.

Juxtapose the horrifying and depressing physical destruction versus the incredibly beautiful, colorful, heartwarming blooming of the community. Some stuck it out. Others who evacuated their families or themselves have returned, and so much faster than anyone could believe.

Specific individual efforts are endlessly inspiring—roofers roofing, cooks cooking, carpenters hammering, bobcat drivers bucketing— but it’s the coming together of the whole community of Bahamians, Second Home Owners (from all over the world), and Volunteers most magnificently Samaritan’s Purse (www.samaritanspurse.org) and Missionary Flights International (www.missionaryflights.org) that fill us with joy that is so moving.  What an incredible door to this unique elevating experience a hurricane has opened. How the resident Bahamians’ native intelligence and trusting nature, combined with their brawn, craftsmanship, resilience, and grit is equipping them and their families to survive—even thrive—through this adversity.

The island has been responsibly stewarded for a couple of hundred years by a few super loyal prominent families who have provided a lot of leadership. It’s not always easy for successful people, who are justifiably proud of their own significant achievements, to accept help from outsiders (I’ve heard). In this case, the entire community metaphorically put their ego in a box and put the box on a shelf, and not only accepted, but heartwarmingly welcomed the outside help; they coordinated and curated it.

Heavy equipment was acquired and barged from Florida. Volunteers began to arrive. Connectivity was re-established with trailer based portable cell towers and Wi-Fi connection. Technology tools were set up and aggressively employed. A Man-O-War Facebook page, previously used as an amusement, was immediately enlisted and re-purposed as a community communication portal for residents, second homeowners, and volunteers: view Facebook Group here.

A 200 participant WhatsApp group has begun to be the preferred mode of communication: from asking “who’s coming back from Florida in the next day or two and could you please bring diapers?”, to, “just heard that Ann made freshly baked ginger bread this morning, can you pick me up a fresh one and bring to the work site.” Possibly most remarkable of all: the little island of 300 residents had 4 churches of various denominations. A serious dialogue is going on at the moment between congregants led by ministers to rebuild only one church and worship together. “We’ve been doing it for the past 12 weeks since all our churches got destroyed, why can’t we continue to worship together in the future?” Whoa. You really can bring about positive change from crisis.

If the science of epigenetic gene expression is as valid and rapid as the latest research suggests, then overcoming these huge trauma inducing adversities will result in strength. I bet we’ll see “the greatest generation” of Bahamians emerge—the youngest infants, kids, and adolescents who survived, and learned to thrive through Dorian.

Pete Using Equipment
Dorian Damage

So. What does this have to do with us Entrepreneur Owner-Managers? For private business owners in a world untouched (so far) by destruction like this, could there be any learning moments here?

First, do you agree we live in a world where everything is constantly changing and evolving? Nothing lasts—including us. We and everyone we love will die. Reputations fade, fortunes evaporate, continents shift. Every organization is terminal. Including ours. Yet we behave as if we have solid ground under our feet and as if we have control, don’t we? (Hell, we hide the elderly in nursing homes and act as if aging will never happen to us).

In a world where everything is constantly changing, it makes sense we suffer when we cling to things that will not last; they are impermanent (they must be impermanent and cannot last if everything is constantly changing, right?). We know this, yet on a behavioral level we are hardwired for denial.

As organization leaders, can we develop the courage for a deep understanding and acceptance of impermanence? If we did, could it then lead to taking personal responsibility for reliable succession—family, organizational leadership, business ownership—removing us from the rumination roller coaster and allow us to frame our personal and professional dramas and desires through a wider lens?

Do you think there’s hope we can “get it”? I do. Together we are a small group of atoms on an insignificant piece of dirt and ice spinning around a very average sized star, in one solar system out of a billion solar systems. Chance happens. There is no safety, and security is only a temporary illusion. It’s advanced common sense. Let’s give thanks.

Many of you have asked me what you can do to help, that you want to send contributions to the post Dorian Abacos humanitarian effort or even volunteer on site. No doubt there are many good organizations that are worthy of contributions. After being on scene and talking and working alongside our Bahamian friends and neighbors, the one organization that Kareen and I are directing our contributions to and support is MOWRELIEF.COM.

MOWRELIEF.COM was formed by a group of Bahamians and long-time unswerving second home owners. Its governing board is made up of representatives of both those groups. It has arranged to have contributions received through PERC, Inc. so that donors to MOWRELIEF.COM can be confident their donations are going directly to work on Man-O-War Cay. PERC, Inc. is a not-for-profit U.S. corporation created in 1998 to support the philanthropic work of charitable and community organizations in Abaco, Bahamas and to enable U.S. tax payers to make tax deductible contributions to their preferred Abaco charities.

If in instead of sending cash, you want to put on your Carhartt’s and work gloves and go to work in a place where you will have the fun of making a massive positive change in people’s lives, here’s the call for volunteers received today from Man-O-War Cay catastrophe manager Scott Prosuch:

If you are interested in volunteering for at least a week, I can guarantee it will be a meaningful experience and make a huge difference. Our next phase of work is here, our main thrust will be removing tarps and applying water shield, chipping and mucking. Please indicate any special skills you may have. We have lodging, great meals at Hibiscus, tools, equipment!! Please contact me in advance”.

 - Scott Prosuch sprosuch@earthlink.net or on WhatsApp, 719.337.0346