Category Archives: hurricanes

Painting Mary …

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She was looking kind of ragged.

Her royal blue robe was anything but majestic. Her feet were dirty. Her face and hands were worn. Her pedestal was chipped, and her heart was broken.

It was time to fix that.

Fourteen years ago, Mary had been rescued from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina by my father-in-law, a man whose rough exterior poorly hid the gentle soul who was capable of the detailed work required to revive Mary.

Mary, who had traveled 801 miles from Kiln, Mississippi, in the trunk of an Acura TL to our home in Miramar, Florida, to grace a corner of our yard and protect us from Hurricanes Wilma, Bonnie, Rita and countless other mini-natural disasters that had littered our neighborhood with downed trees, broken roof tiles and left us in the dark for days.

Mary, who, six years ago, made the move to our new home with spectacular sunsets in western Broward County and has shielded us from the ravages of Hurricane Irma and (and now Dorian) and the creatures that call the Everglades home: snakes, frogs, raccoons, alligators, and humans who prowl through our neighborhood at night, unafraid of the hundreds of security cameras watching and recording their every move.

For years, I joked that nothing bad ever happened around our house because Mary was protecting us.  But I was only half-joking. Her body was a warehouse of miracles waiting to happen. The storage capacity in her 2-feet, 9-inch frame could put an Amazon fulfillment center to shame.

But Mary was looking worn and tired.

She was still creating her miracles each day, but she needed a fresh coat of paint. We had gone as far as buying the paint and brushes, but they had been sitting in the garage for what seemed like forever, waiting for someone to move “Paint Mary” up on their to-do list and finish the job.

But that someone never seemed to raise their hand to say, “I’ll do it.”

Meanwhile, Mary was sending signs that she wanted to shine a little brighter. It was as if her never-ending storehouse of strength was charged by appreciation, love and care, as much as the humans she protects depend on a little bit of reinforcement every now and then to keep them motivated.

But I didn’t pay much attention to the signs. That is until Mary’s insistence became a little louder.

I had never seen a snake in my yard in the six years we have lived here.  My neighbors see them all the time but not me. I spend a lot of time outside, so by now, I should have seen my share of them.

A few days ago, I walked out my front door and right there, out of the corner of my eye, just inches from me, was a 3-foot-long southern black racer. That was about three feet too long for me, despite Google’s assurance that it was harmless and useful for keeping insects away. (I’ll take the fly swatter, thank you very much.)

Then there was the frog in the garage. (Anyone who knows me, knows that even the tiniest fake frog makes the hair on my body stand like a full-body Mohawk haircut spikey enough to be classified a weapon.) I had turned on the light to put something in the recycle bin, and there it was, all cute and cozy (to some people) and smiling at me. The fear rose from my solar plexus and turned into a blood-curdling scream that sent the frightened froggie out of the now open garage as I ran inside to monitor its departure through my security cameras. (I digress, but I assure you, I’m not making any of that up.)

Finally, there was the guy standing in our front yard with what looked very much like a rifle when we came home a few nights ago.  We made it inside safely while the guy disappeared to who knows where. The police nonchalantly dismissed it as a neighbor out shooting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know,” but it was Mary’s loudest sign that I should pay attention to her.

She wanted to shine again, and sooner rather than later.

But who would paint her?  I was absent the day God gave out painting talents. So, I scratched my name off the list and went about the business of finding other to-do lists to conquer. But the paint cans sitting in the garage were too much of an eyesore to keep ignoring.

“Hey, Barb. Why don’t you paint me?” Mary whispered.

I looked around, and the smiling face of the frog in the garage popped into my memory.

“OK, Mary,” I’ll give it a try if you promise to hit the delete button on that frog vision from my brain,” I responded.

And so, I opened the paint cans, tentatively picked up a brush and trusted Mary to guide me, just as I trust the Muse when my hands hover over a keyboard and a blank page on my Macbook and the words flow like water from a broken dam.

Mary was restored to her shining glory.

Three days before South Florida was placed in the cone of Hurricane Dorian, I placed Mary back in the corner of our yard that she calls home.

My little statue was once again ready to pour her love and miracles on those willing to believe in her and trust her guidance.

It was a reminder that sometimes all it takes is a little “paint” and patience to make someone’s day brighter … to bring out the love hiding beneath an exterior that has been dulled by life’s elements.

Is there someone in your life who needs “painting?” Grab your brush of kindness and bring back the brightness that time has eroded.

And don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.

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Filed under hurricanes, spirituality, Uncategorized, Wisdom

Really, there’s nothing wrong …

Waveland

Waveland Mississippi Pier – copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

 

That overwhelming sense of sadness that suddenly descends upon you … when there’s absolutely nothing wrong.

We all feel it.

If we look around, things on the surface look pretty darn good. We have everything we want, except that a nagging feeling of melancholy keeps hovering over our hearts like a Category 1 hurricane waiting to happen.  It may not cause a lot of damage, but it’s annoying enough to damper our mood for a while.

It’s a type of melancholy that makes teenage angst seem like an endorphin high on speed.

But why are we so afraid to admit that something is wrong?  Not just to others, but to ourselves? Is it because we fear that if we accept that there’s an emptiness inside us that nothing seems to fulfill we’ll finally have to find a way to fulfill it?

Better to be in denial and stay busy, right?  Maybe it will just go away.

But IT doesn’t.  And the more we pretend IT is not there … the moment we turn on the television, reach for our smartphone for the latest alert, troll through social media, IT is sitting right beside us, crowding our space, making us even more miserable than we already were.

And speaking of social media.  How’s that for a humbling experience, showing us that compared to others, our lives completely suck?  So, get with it!  Don’t just sit there, go do something productive to show your worth and post it on Facebook!

At the end of a day of aimlessly running around being “productive,” we reach for a glass of wine, or two, or 15, to take the edge off, but no amount of alcohol will drown out the truth that’s longing to come to the surface.  The truth that despite all the noise surrounding us every day, there’s something missing.

We grew up to be who we wanted to be, but along the way, we lost who we were.

Now, let’s face it.  All is not doom and gloom and I simply exaggerate just a tiny bit to get your attention.  I tend to do that. (Go ahead, roll your eyes in acknowledgement. I’ll take it as a compliment.)

There are moments when we glimpse happiness and fulfillment. Moments when we gaze into our significant other’s eyes, when we cuddle with our pets, when we watch our children grow up to be amazing people, when we laugh our asses off over the antics of animal videos on the internet, when we dance naked alone in our kitchens as if nobody’s watching and suddenly, somebody is. (I’m making that up. I only dance naked in the living room.)

But those moments are few and far between because we’re so busy doing all the ancillary stuff of life that real life passes us by.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans – Allen Saunders  

So what is IT?

IT is that little voice inside of us, screaming for us to STOP! – Stop before our bodies break down and force us to do so. Stop before we look back and realize we missed so much frantically doing so little.

And how do we tame IT?

By doing the exact opposite of what we’ve been doing.

Instead of adding more to our already overflowing glutton-envying plate of to-do lists and tasks, we need to put down our forks, step away from the table and go for a nice long walk. (Or dance naked in the living room, if that sounds like something you might like.)

IT is a cranky toddler screaming for attention. But IT knows what’s best for you.   Because IT is the you that you lost somewhere between the playground and the office conference room.

And the only way to quiet IT is to do … nothing… except the hardest thing of all …

Listen.

 

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Filed under Grief, hurricanes, Peace, Sadness, spirituality, Uncategorized

Five Years After The Storm

In 1969, Robert Redford and Natalie Wood starred in “This Property Is Condemned,” a movie filmed entirely near the train station in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Despite its A-list cast members and director Sydney Pollack, the  film, adapted from a 1946 one-act play by Tennesse Williams, never made it onto the tracks of Hollywood history.

But its title would become a prophetic vision of the town’s future.

Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina barreled through Bay St. Louis like a derailed freight train intent on getting the last word.

She eyed Bay St. Louis and neighboring Waveland for days before crashing onto their coast with an unprecedented 28- foot surge —  the highest ever recorded on the U.S. coast — and 140 mph winds.

Buildings that had withstood over 100 years of storms and hurricanes toppled and floated away, leaving behind nothing but the pilings on which they stood.

The remains of wooden structures decorated the landscape like Mother Nature’s abandoned game of pickup sticks.

To the people of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Hurricane Camille used to be “the storm.”  But on Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina dethroned Camille and buried her crown in the rubble.

The media’s attention, however, was so focused on what was happening  62 miles to the west in New Orleans, that the outside world was clueless as to what had happened where the center of the storm had made landfall.

A few weeks ago, I went back to that area of the U.S. I like to call my second home.  It wasn’t the first time I’d been back since the storm, but it was the first time I realized how much of my heart lives there.

If you never visited the Gulf Coast before “the storm,” everything would look normal if you went there today.

You wouldn’t know that the empty stretch of boulevard that overlooks the peaceful Gulf of Mexico was once home to restaurants, shops, bars, and a very lively artists’ community.  You wouldn’t know that the giant oak just east of where the Dock of the Bay restaurant once stood saved the lives of those who clung to it while Katrina had her way with the bed and breakfast that was adjacent to it.  You wouldn’t know that the lab mix named Trina with the honey-colored eyes somehow made it through the storm while God only knows what happened to her family.

But if you look close, you can still see the scars.

The concrete slabs and pilings that remain along the beach were once homes.  The giant oak tree is not quite as giant as it once was.  And Trina, the miracle dog found wandering along the train tracks after the storm, still cries and seeks human contact at the slightest hint of thunder.

During the past five years, while New Orleans whined and basked in the spotlight of media attention, the people of Bay St. Louis and Waveland — ground zero for Katrina — quietly rebuilt.  They are by no means done rebuilding.  But despite the challenges, the sense of family and community have prevented those who survived from feeling sorry for themselves.

Katrina left behind a lot of destruction and took with it generations worth of memories.

But what she left behind — what she could never take — was the spirit of the people, a spirit strengthened through hardship.  That spirit, the spirit that I fell in love with the minute I first stepped onto Beach Boulevard over 10 years ago, never faltered — before, during, or after Katrina.

Living through hell prepares you for anything life throws at you.

As a Cuban-Lebanese, Brooklyn-raised South Florida resident I couldn’t be more of an outsider.  Yet, each time I return to the Gulf Coast, I always feel welcome and at home.

I am blessed to have known what was here before the storm as I watch the progress of rebuilding what’s yet to come.

May we always remember the lessons Katrina taught in her windy and watery classroom.

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Filed under hurricanes, Uncategorized

Nature Laughs

Every morning I begin my day with a reading from God Calling, a small book with inspirational readings that set the pace for the rest of the day.

Sometimes the message is so on target it scares me.

“Nature laughs. Let her have her way with you,” read the message for today.

As I write this, Tropical Storm Fay is scheduled to make a beeline through the Florida Straits to party with the Conchs on Duval Street sometime in the next 24 hours. Tourists are being evacuated and traffic on the Overseas Highway is starting to build.

This is the time of year when any blip in the Atlantic weather satellite sets the local media into a heightened state of awareness that ranges from the responsible to the ridiculous.

A quick perusal through the local media Web sites this morning let me know that in the next 36 hours we’re either going to be fine or we’re all going to die.

As member of the media, I know the truth is somewhere between the extremes.

As journalists, it’s our responsibility to keep you safe and informed, especially during hurricane season. It’s not just about ratings and headlines. Our goal is to serve you in a professional, responsible manner.

But sometimes we fail.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of having the latest information — and wanting to get it to you as fast as possible — that we end up looking like caricatures of ourselves.

Don’t hold it against us. It’s in our DNA. Breaking news is our Pavlov’s bell.

It’s not just about salivating over an anticipated meal of death, doom and destruction. It’s about having information that could help others — and being blessed with the privilege of sharing that meal with them.

Being the first to deliver that news is just a bonus.

As Managing Editor of a local television Web site, I am blessed with being one of the first to know what’s happening. And I have honor of sharing that information with you.

This isn’t just my job. It’s my mission. But with it comes a great sacrifice.

While you’re preparing to hunker down in your safe room, the journalists and forecasters who gather the information to keep you safe, are preparing to kiss their families goodbye and head to their respective newsrooms to keep you informed, hoping that all the preparations we made will keep our loved one from harm.

It’s a responsibility I accept — just as I accept the calls from family and friends that begin with … “So, tell me, where is the storm really going?”

The truth is, nobody really knows. Forecasting has come a long way since God gave a shout out to Noah and convinced him to build an ark while skeptics laughed.

But if you’ve lived through a hurricane or any natural disaster, you know that Mother Nature will do whatever she wants, regardless of the predictions and forecasts.

If we pretend to know too much, she will laugh.

The best we can do is prepare.

We’re only half way through hurricane season. Are you prepared?

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Filed under Barbara Besteni, hurricanes, tropical storm fay