The first thing you need to know is that no one ever complains. I’ve seen a few people cry, mostly about lost pets, but what they say is “we’re so lucky.”
They say “We’re so lucky” as elders in their 80s and 90s put all the possessions of a lifetime out on the street to be hauled away as trash. One couple told me “We’re so lucky – we saved our wedding album and one picture of all the grandchildren together.” There wasn’t time for more before they evacuated. “We’re so lucky – the kids lost all their toys, but we’re staying with friends who have girls the same size as mine, so they have clothes and things…”
They say “We’re so lucky” as they contemplate the loss of their livelihoods. A friend told me “I was so lucky, we had stock up on the high shelves that didn’t get touched, and I was able to get that over to the shelter and start feeding people right away.” She lost her whole business.
They say “We are so lucky” as they look at their fields washed away. “We are so lucky…we saved our buildings at least, even though we lost our whole crop.” “We are so lucky, we lost our buildings, but we got the stock out and the tractors.” “We are so lucky, we lost everything, but we’re all safe.” None of them know yet how much help will be forthcoming or when.
They say “We’re so lucky” despite the loss of beloved animals and livestock. “We’re so lucky, we got the milk cows out, and three of the heifers” they say – even though they lost all the year’s calves and the rest of the heifers and spent two days trapped in their hayloft.
They say “we’re so lucky” when they have to evacuate again – after they cleaned up and dried off, when Irene seemed to be over, and then Lee sent the rivers rising again. “At least we’re safe, at least we have friends to go to.”
Everyone knows someone who has it worse. No one is lying when they say “We are so lucky.” That’s the part that’s hard to believe – even the second time around, when those who evacuated the first time are weary and back in the shelters, when those who dodged the bullet last time now know that everything may be washed away, they say – and truly mean – “We’re so lucky.”
They smile when they say it. They make jokes – a friend who has no money to mend her basement which had two of her sons’ bedrooms in it told me “At least we had already ripped the carpet out from the last time!” Another friend said “I’m getting to kind of like the smell of the mold treater.” And always, they are lucky – and they know it. Every single person knows that it could have been worse, that there could have been less help, that there could have been worse outcomes.
Over the weeks and months and years that follow as people try to reclaim their lives, there will undoubtedly be moments in which people do not feel lucky. And yet I don’t think that invalidates the universal courage and kindness, stoicism and honest recognition that they are fortunate that shine out of my neighbors and through my community. Looking to them now, I cannot but know that we are so lucky to have them.