Romano: A hurricane can take your power, but not your hope

The Wish Tree at the Salvador Dal? Museum was uprooted last Monday in winds produced by Hurricane Irma in St. Petersburg. An arborist says it can be replanted.
The Wish Tree at the Salvador Dal? Museum was uprooted last Monday in winds produced by Hurricane Irma in St. Petersburg. An arborist says it can be replanted.
Published Sep. 17, 2017

As too many people figured out last week, it can take a long time to restore power after a hurricane.

It doesn't matter how often you call to complain, or how sad and droopy you try to appear as the power trucks drive past you on the street. Somewhere along the line you discover you are at the mercy of others. That goes for cable, Internet and gas, too. Not to mention trash collection or roof repair.

If there is a lingering lesson from the winds of Hurricane Irma, it is that a healthy portion of our daily lives can be achingly beyond our control.

Except, maybe, for this:

Our capacity for hope.

"I wish to be brave enough to be out of the ordinary"

For nearly a week now, the Wish Tree has lain toppled on its side in the Avant-garden at the Salvador Dalí Museum. If you were looking for a storm's metaphor, the roots of this one were literally plain to see.

Mind you, this tree is not high on the list of attractions at a world-class museum. It's a humongous Florida ficus that has a history of falling prey to winds despite many precautionary measures.

Yet among the priceless art, gourmet cafe and unique architecture at the Dalí, the Wish Tree has gradually become a sentimental departure point for many of the museum's 400,000 annual visitors.

The idea, based in Hindu and Scottish traditions, is to write a wish on the back of your admission wristband and attach it to the tree on your way out the door.

"My wish is that my mom can walk on my wedding day"

The idea, remarkably, has grown as large as the tree. Wristbands create a kaleidoscope of colors along the trunks, branches and support wires. The Dalí has started hanging ribbons from the branches so the wishes can be periodically removed, recorded and eventually replaced.

For the past few years, on Veterans Day, the museum has held a ceremony in the garden where select wishes are read aloud.

"It's been pretty amazing what we've seen on our own social media (regarding) the reaction to the tree being down,'' said Kathy Greif, chief marketing officer at the Dalí. "People from all over the world are writing, 'I left my wish on that tree, I pray for you guys, I hope it'll be okay.' The outpouring has been pretty amazing. It's let us know how much that tree has touched people.''

"I wish I could beat this pill addiction and move my baby girl out of this house we live in"

The wishes are personal and global. Heartbreaking and silly. Children wish for hoverboards and parents wish for their children. Some include names, some include dates and some are just wishes for everyone to know the pleasure of a good, chocolate eclair.

That the tree has spent a week at a 45-degree angle, and roped-off from the rest of the garden, has been concerning but not yet heartbreaking.

An arborist has assured museum officials that it can be replanted — it was originally blown over in a storm in South Florida in 2010 and relocated to St. Petersburg — and cranes are expected to pull it upright early this week.

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Meanwhile, fresh wishes were safeguarded from Irma's fury. Having been through the drill previously, the museum's security team began removing the most recent ribbons that hung from the branches as the storm approached. The wishes were collected and held indoors, and will return to the tree as soon as it is stabilized.

"Be able to carry a baby"

The storm has long since passed, and most of us were fortunate enough to have merely been inconvenienced and not upended by its wind and rain. Recovery is well under way, and perhaps fresh starts are even in the works.

For others, the challenges of the storm exposed vulnerabilities and fears that are not so easily corrected. To them, the fortunes of a sentimental tree do not, and should not, concern them for even one stinking moment.

But the tree itself is merely a symbol, and its roots are not immune to danger.

The true strength rests within every one of us.

"I wish for a world at peace where my children can pursue all their dreams without fear or doubt"