Monday, May 21, 2018
Opinion

Henderson: Irma helps us reorder priorities

Before I knew about devastation in the Keys, or flooding in Jacksonville, or how Orlando and Miami were battered by Hurricane Irma, I experienced how powerful small doses of kindness can be.

As a newspaper guy, I have spent my working life being plugged in, so to speak. The downside is that it can lead to a sense of detachment to what's happening around me. I ask other people about their experiences while sometimes ignoring my own. Irma helped change that.

Like many of you, my family and I spent Sunday in a Hillsborough County shelter. That was a first for me. Time has never moved so slowly. There was no TV and the internet was spotty. People found themselves wishing this beast of a storm, so dreadfully awesome, would hurry up and get it over with.

Maybe that shared sense of dread helped everyone pull together.

As the afternoon and evening dragged on, people were talking with strangers, holding doors open, sharing snacks, patting the many dogs in our pet-friendly space, playing board games, reading books and occasionally peeking outside for any sign from the heavens that this was all a cosmic practical joke.

Most people didn't seem to sleep much that night as the winds from Irma screamed and howled outside our safe zone. By 4:30 a.m., many folks started getting up to pack. The wind had calmed and people just wanted to get out by first light to deal with whatever had happened.

On the drive toward home we noticed most of the houses had power, even some of those on our street. But …

No.

My street must on a different power grid because we're always among the first to lose power and one of the last to get it back. Across from us, a neighbor did have power and graciously offered to share. We plugged together several long, heavy-duty extension cords and at least could keep the refrigerator going and turn on a light or two.

That's what I mean about kindness. All it took was someone willing to say "sure, absolutely" to a neighbor. That may sound like a small thing, but these days we're conditioned to hearing the word "no."

I'm equally certain people were saying "yes" all over the state because that's how we get through things like this — people helping people.

They will help some more, too. Every bit of it is needed. Losing power for a few days obviously is a gnat bite compared to the real suffering that went on in too many places around the state and in the Caribbean.

Something like this has a way of narrowing your focus and reordering your priorities.

I'm not talking about the need to quit denying that climate change is real and that scientists, who know more about this than we do, say man has contributed greatly to the problem. Yes, we need to face that.

But that's a planetary issue and we can't control that. We can, however, unplug from the world occasionally, crawl out of the man cave, and realize Irma was an equal-opportunity beast. It didn't matter if a person was red or blue, black or white, straight or gay, conservative or liberal. Irma was Mother Nature grabbing us by the collar for a good wake-up shaking.

With no TV or internet access, it took until late Monday — an eternity in my business — before I saw what happened in too many other parts of the state. We can read all the warnings about what hurricanes like Irma can do to our state, but too many parts of Florida now are living the nightmare.

Getting through it will take months, maybe longer, but it can be done with one act of kindness at a time, many out-stretched hands, and a lot of people saying "yes."

Comments
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18