In a crisis, platitudes and clichés circulate, blasting a dose of truth in a digestible pill. Amid Hurricane Ian’s aftermath, Tampa Bay has “dodged a bullet.” Down south, we’ve seen areas that look like “a bomb went off.”
And we’ve wrapped ourselves in the less violent, more soothing turns of phrase as the horrifying death toll rises and recovery cranks on. Those feeling helpless have been told to “look for the helpers,” a comforting line from one of history’s most comforting men, Mister Rogers. The saying has ascended to T-shirt-level popularity, bandied around after nearly every American hardship.
Simple notions become prosaic for a reason; they help us sort the world into buckets. To be sure, we’ve got much gray area to unpack after this storm, man-made contributions to a natural disaster. Did officials give people in certain counties enough time to evacuate? How will Florida fix its broken homeowners insurance market? Are poor communities getting the same attention as rich areas? Will warming waters continue to churn out monster storms?
“Look for the helpers,” a phrase originally meant to ease the fears of children, doesn’t answer those very adult questions. Same for “We rise by lifting others,” or “Give, but give until it hurts.” But even overexposed quotes can feel useful, almost appropriate at a time like this.
One of the most remarkable things to witness in this experience has been the help. Some of that assistance has been grand in scale, like first responders and volunteer armies dropping into the heart of chaos to retrieve survivors. World Central Kitchen, Feeding Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries have worked tirelessly to feed the hungry.
Employees at Clearwater’s Big Storm Brewing spent the weekend gathering carts of food, water and medical supplies to take south. A man in Naples who went viral saving a cat from floodwaters is raising money for homeless animals. Local pet shelters are filled to the max. The Junior League and Babycycle are sending diapers into the hardest-hit areas. The list goes on and on.
Much of the help is quieter, too. When the storm was bearing down, friends around the state opened their houses to evacuees without a second thought. People in neighborhood Facebook groups offered water, sandbags, a hot shower, encouraging words. Aunts, cousins and friends across the country checked in on Floridians, even, bless their hearts, the ones with little sense of geography. And so many folks, even those who don’t have much to give, are sending money.
No, not everyone is good. But in painful times, it helps to remember that a whole lot of people are.
Consider an image shared by USA Today Network journalist Janine Zeitlin. A resident of Pine Island spray-painted these words on the side of a house, punctuated with a heart:
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Be both human and kind.
Get Stephanie’s newsletter
For weekly bonus content and a look inside columns by Stephanie Hayes, sign up for the free Stephinitely newsletter.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.
THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.