It was Saturday, August, 30th, 2021. 16 years to the day since Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana. New Orleans was bracing and preparing for another weather event. The onslaught of Hurricane Ida and all of her wrath, bringing record breaking 174 mile per hour winds as she made landfall in the Big Easy over Sunday Jazz brunch.
Four hours east, I was in my happy place-Miramar Beach, Florida, bracing and preparing for a second day to put in extra hours as a volunteer at the beach that I love, looking out over the stunning waters of the Emerald Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Ida had something to say to us too. And I was all ears.
When I volunteer, I wear my blue shirt, nametag and whistle. I proudly serve Walton County on Miramar Beach, one of the busiest stretches on the 26 mile strip protected and served by the county personnel. At the height of the season, it is not unusual to see 3000 plus in a space less than a mile wide.
I feel led to volunteer on the days when they fly two red flags signifying water closed to the public. Sadly, there have been people who go in the water anyway on these days and some of them go home leaving something behind-their life.
When I see a person heading into the water, it is my training to blow a whistle, wave them out and when I am able, tell them why. I follow the lifeguards who ride their ATV’s ahead of me, telling people to get out of the water. Often, the people get right back in once the lifeguard drives on. I want to support these brave first responders, hoping that my efforts may help to keep them from having to risk their young lives unnecessarily to save someone who has no respect for their own. “The water is closed. The county policy is that you must be on dry sand.” I have said this hundreds of times. Some adhere. Some get angry. In all cases, I do what I can to educate, sharing that it is for their safety and that I appreciate that they came to go in the water, but that it is unsafe. This beach saw over a dozen drownings in spring and summer of this year alone.
In many cases, people protest. But when I say to them that the sheriff writes tickets for anyone in wet sand on these days to the tune of $500 a head, that often gets their attention. When the idea of dying does not.
It is also my training that once I have informed them, should they turn and go into the water, I must take their picture, note their description, the time and the place they went in to submit to the authorities and send it in so that if they wash up later, they will know where they went in.
I say that I prepared and braced myself for my days because when I do not and people get angry, I sometimes react with the same. Or allow my feelings to be hurt. And that makes my soul hurt. So this weekend, I made an intentional effort to handle myself differently because I have control of my response. Each day, I did my usual prayer and mediation. I saw myself wearing a virtual teflon suit and added that I was going to look for the good in everyone and be mindful that hurting people hurt people and none of it was about me. It was and is ALWAYS about them. Kids wanna swim. Dad paid good money. The family is disappointed. I was determined to have a great time.
The extreme weather energizes me. I spent most of my life in tornado seasons, going out to lay in the grass and watch the green Oklahoma skies, in their eerie dead silence before I would take shelter. There is an energy in that silence that is magnificent and palpable.
On this hurricane weekend, if they could have flown four red flags, it would have been fitting. Because these were angry storm surge waters. Part of the hurricane. These were Ida’s outer bands. Sunday was like an all day concert. Only the headliner played first. At our venue, one band would rain for a few minutes, then take a break while the next band set up their 30 mph horizontal wind gusts and lightning and thunder machines. Not the kind of festival you would scream for an encore, but for me, it was just as exhilarating. Nature at its most spectacular. Showing its prowess in the form of eight foot storm surge and winds that blew wet sand so hard that my lips were chapped and swollen. Slapping the beach all the way to the dunes. Saying no to the offering of a place for a beach goer to rest their head in the sand.
The parking lots are above the beach. There are stairs that lead down to the sand. I migrated up and down the stairs, blowing my whistle from above the beach, making hand signals to those in the water, waving them out, giving thumbs up to those who heeded me. The rails up top were crowded. A few dozen families looked on as the waters beat up the sand. Several cars had Louisiana plates driven by people who looked vacant and shell shocked when I spoke to them. “I have no idea what I am going home to. Or if I will even have one.” Some were sleeping in their vans. Changing babies in the parking lot. My heart broke for them. I made my way up and down through the crowd, connecting with those who were receptive. It was a great sense of community. No one cared about politics, religion or world events. We were all fully present. Like kids in the bodies of kids and adults, sharing the bond of shock and awe to the spectacle before us.
I was feeling joy in the midst of it when I walked by a beautiful late model sapphire blue Mercedes Coupe. It was loaded. Top open to a brown buckskin leather interior and its driver as the bands were breaking from their showers. “Can I valet park that for you?” I said playfully. The driver smiled big, as if he was excited to have someone engage him. He had other things on his mind I would soon learn. “This is my blessing!” He exclaimed, referring to his car. I replied with equal enthusiasm. “You know it’s funny. We could all enjoy this kind of abundance if we just allow ourselves to receive it.” It was as if he was deep in his thoughts and me showing up was such a reprieve.
Again, the look on his face, while he said little, spoke volumes. We were connecting. My soul and his. Like that intention I had set to see the good in everyone was happening. I continued. “My affirmation today was that I was thankful for my abundance. And that there is enough money, enough time and enough love.” Again, he appeared to be moved. I added, “And I notice that the birds don’t have 401 K plans.” My way of saying, “If the birds needs are met, who are we to think ours won’t be?” He got me. It was like church. He said, “I am from New Orleans and I came here to shelter for a couple of days before I know what to do next.” He sounded a little defeated. It struck me at that moment that we are all the same. That nature respects no person. No demographic. We may look different. Have different gifts. Different containers. Different beliefs. But in that moment, I saw the sameness in all of us. “I am a rapper. Would you please share that affirmation with my followers on my instagram LIVE?” “Sure.” With hair standing straight up like metal shavings to a magnet from the winds, I looked into his phone and said, “There is enough money, enough time, enough love.” And then our part of church let out and I moved on with my whistle.
He was my blessing.