I awoke this morning listening to a TV segment about a group heading to help those still affected by Hurricane Sandy. It’s a tough time for the survivors. I remember how long it took to recover from my own disaster. The storm passes, but the work continues for months, and even years. What is most astounding is that we go from our normal lives, just like most other days, to an emotional roller coaster and a staggering sense of being powerless, but we do survive. There is something so resilient in the human spirit. We can get through it.
Even I feel powerless in the face of such an event, asking myself ‘what can I do?’ For sure, one thing I can do is to share my story and perhaps it will comfort someone or provide a place to learn how to get through this.
For me, that morning in 2005 seemed like any other day. It was raining as it had been (I think it was something like 30 days) as I headed off to the studio where we were wrapping a long television production. We were all feeling a sense of accomplishment, gratified even if exhausted. The host was looking forward to cleaning out her kitchen drawers. I had a projects like that in mind too. My husband Peter and I were deciding whether we would be refinishing hardwood floors or replacing carpeting.
I loved our stucco house of the 1930s with its plaster walls, beehive fireplace and D&M Malibu tiles leading to the second story, but any project seemed like a massive undertaking. Peter had been growing a home based business, renting the things that make Westerns authentic, and everything was stored at home in every nook and cranny, keeping the overhead low. We wanted to locate a larger ranch, but had no idea how it was possible. So we frequently joked that we would have to move before we could sell the house. We couldn’t possibly ‘stage’ it for potential buyers when it was filled with so much old stuff.
Driving through the congested streets and highways to leave for the studio that morning, there was nothing special going on. Peter was heading off to Arizona for a Winter Range event. I was looking forward to the down time which would give me more time to travel to see my amazing grandson Charlie and shower him with gifts.
At the studio, news coverage indicated several troubled areas near my home – traffic lights out and street flooding – but when my line producer Ellen asked me if I needed to go home, I felt I would be fine. Since Peter would be away, I was in no hurry.
Even the drive home that night was notable only for traffic delays and a stop at the grocery store. Getting out of the car, I didn’t notice anything out of place. There was a different smell in the air, but there was nothing that alarmed me. Some white sand stood out on the sidewalk, not terribly threatening after so much rain. In the dark, the house looked comfortably nestled into the mountain behind it. The original builder had the forethought to use steel pillars back in the 1930s which had proven valuable in earthquake country. Nothing rattled this house.
I had no idea as I turned the key in the lock and flipped the light switch that night that what I would see before me would alter my life. The dogs were all on the sofas, wagging their tails to say, “Hi Mom.” Mud was all around them, down the stairs from the second floor, water dripping from the ceiling below the upstairs bathroom. I ran up the stairs, through the mud, to find a wall of dirt and stone had pushed through the upstairs windows, across the hall and into the bathroom where 6” of dark brown water filled the tiled floor.
I freaked, running around, trying to reach Peter. “You’ve got to come home, NOW.”
I needed help, but none of our friends were available. Fortunately, Max and a couple of the young fellows from church arrived with brooms, only to call home asking for shovels and buckets. Joined by Steve, they had me climb the rock staircase that led to the second floor from the outside. The sight was staggering. Huge boulders were piled behind the house to the roof. We could not see the mountain in the dark, but it was clear that something horrific had occurred. More friends from church arrived. They all insisted I go elsewhere that night until Peter could return. I was in shock. I was not yet ready to grasp the reality. My world had just come tumbling down and we were going to face some major hurdles to rebuild our lives.
I couldn’t know then that an event of that magnitude does not just sweep away; it reveals. I had no idea of the challenges ahead of us. Six months later, looking at the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, I wept for them because I knew what they had ahead of them, how it wouldn’t go away overnight, and, in fact, rebuilding would, over time, extend into all areas of their lives – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. If they embraced the change, they were on the brink of possibility. If they resisted, it would be painful.
Looking back, the landslide was an AHA moment, what 12 steppers would call my ‘bottom,’ as well as the beginning of my conscious pursuit of the process of deliberate creation. From the perspective of 7 years past, this was the most catastrophic event of my life, yet I can also say that we not only survive, but tap into the creative process itself. Disaster can be an opportunity to create that which we have always denied ourselves before.
The process of recovery takes time, willingness, a pinch of courage, the cultivation of a good attitude and a large dose of faith. We learn from such an event by engaging in a process that works if you work it, if you set out with an idea and follow through, and that makes all the difference.
I learned that we live this process on a daily basis through our choices. Success is a continual act of deciding to take actions that move you toward resolving the contrasts you see around you. It is the progressive realization of your vision of what you want, emerging from where you are right now. It is a creative process that has worked miracles in my personal and professional life. It has proved most helpful to me in smoothing the emotional roller coaster, providing a kind of serenity and strength with which to face this challenge. I am where I am and it’s okay.
There is hope in hard times. Choose rainbows over ruins and we can each create something even better.
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