There’s a Catfish on the Sidewalk!

We’ve spent a lot of time this month preparing for then dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

For you non-Floridians, hurricane preparation means securing anything in the yard or patio that could be picked up by the wind and become a projectile. Laundry must to be done because we all need clean underwear in case of prolonged power outages. A visit to the ATM is a must because if there is no electricity, credit and debit cards don’t work. Of course, if all the stores are closed due to electrical outages, there isn’t much shopping going on anyway. We have to check the pantry for non-perishable food because once the electricity is out, things spoil pretty fast in the Florida heat if we can’t make or buy ice and the fridge doesn’t have any power. We need to be sure clean drinking water is available as there is always the possibility of contamination in the local water supply. The car has to be filled with gas because the gas stations are closed when the electricity is out (or when they run out of gas.) Sandbags must be acquired, filled and stacked to protect low lying areas from flooding.

Then after all the preparation, we spend endless hours sitting around waiting and waiting and waiting for the inevitable wind, rain and damage.

After the hurricane, the first thing is a prayer of thanksgiving that we survived. Then comes the damage assessment. Are our families and neighbors safe? Do we still have a roof? Are there any broken windows? Any leaks? Is the electricity on? Who needs immediate help? Do we have enough food and water for the next few days till the roads are cleared and the grocery stores restocked? How much of our landscaping is now trash strewn around the neighborhood?

When it’s safe, we walk around the yard and neighborhood trying to figure out what to do first.

As we were doing damage assessment, one of our weird post-hurricane experiences this year was finding a catfish on the sidewalk in front of our house. It was a fairly large fish—over twelve inches long and it was VERY determined to stay in the teeny-tiny puddle on the sidewalk. We tried picking it up with a yard rake—it flopped off. Then we scooped it into a bucket, and it jumped out. We finally got it into the bucket and put a lid on the bucket for the trip to the pond. We never did figure out how the catfish got in front of our house which is a half-block away from the pond at the end of the street.

Thinking about this catfish reminded me of how a crisis can impact our life. We suddenly find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, with our whole world turned upside down. Like the catfish, we can find ourselves in a place that is out of our comfort zone in the aftermath of a hurricane or other unplanned crisis situations.

In talking to people and reading social media since the hurricane, I have come to believe that people fall into one of two categories in these types of situations. There are the whiners and the winners.

I want to be clear, that these two categories are referring to people who have experienced minor irritations and disruptions due to the storm, not people who have lost everything.

The whiners look on the hardship and inconvenience as a personal attack by some cosmic force. Their attitude is a “Why me?” cry of frustration and dissatisfaction until their world returns to normal. There were six million people in the state of Florida without power and most of the electrical grid in the state had to be rebuilt. Yet the whiners were complaining that their power was not turned on within a day of the storm. They acted as if Armageddon was upon them, even though they were going through a minor inconvenience compared to how the rest of the world lives on a daily basis and how so many other Floridians fared in the storm.

Again, I want to be clear that the whiners were safe, there was no damage to their homes and they were simply experiencing the lack of electricity and internet connection. Yet they acted as if it were the end of the world.

The other type of person, the winner had an “It is what it is” attitude. Yes, they were uncomfortably hot with no air conditioning and they would have appreciated the internet or TV as a distraction from the chaos. But they knew there were much higher priorities than their comfort and they were satisfied to wait out the return to normal.

Several of my friends actually used the past week as a way to be in mental communion with the poor and empathize with the way many people around the world live every day. How many people in other countries suffer through each day without a safe dry home, without enough food to eat or clean water to drink? How many people lack access to the things we take for granted–electricity, running water, air conditioning, refrigeration, dishwasher, TV, internet service?

I find myself being grateful for the return to normal and I also find myself aware of how much in life we expect, how spoiled we are with minor irritations and how selfish we are in putting our wants above the needs of others.

As Americans, we are pampered by the great abundance in this country and we expect it to continue indefinitely. Maybe the whiners all need a lesson in what is really important in life. Maybe our hurricanes are providing that lesson, at least to some of us.

I pray that each and every person who is suffering the devastating effects of losing their loved ones, homes and businesses through hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters will find peace and comfort in the Lord. My heart goes out to those who have lost everything and I encourage you to join me in donating to their relief.

I suggest sending a donation to Catholic Charities in the Dioceses of Galveston/Houston; Corpus Christi; Venice: St. Augustine and Miami.

I also pray that each and every whiner will face a wake-up call and learn the difference between needs and wants, between conveniences and necessities, between being a whiner and a winner.