First it was Harvey, then Irma, and a couple weeks later Maria. Real devastation. Millions of lives disrupted. Ravaged by the experience and resulting damage caused by weather – winds and water. Those of us at a distance watched – first with bated breath to see the paths they would follow, and then in some combination of amazement and horror at the trail of devastation they left.
Having been born and grown up in Barbados, the hurricane rhyme has always been part of my memory. June too soon, July stand by, August come she must, September remember, October all over.
But being the farthest east of the island chain means that generally these weather systems haven’t yet had the chance to develop their power when they pass our way – they’re more often referred to as depressions or tropical storms, not yet major hurricanes.
So our experience is more often rainy weather and rough seas. Nothing like the stunning 185 mph winds of Irma. Can you even imagine the terrifying sound experienced by those in Barbuda and other islands flattened by her power?! Or the incredible flooding Harvey left in his wake, and the unimaginable cleanup process being endured by those in the Houston area?
An iconic image from my childhood of the power of hurricane Janet
– this house was not far from ours
But as a 2 year old, I did experience the last major hurricane that hit Barbados on September 22, 1955. I don’t have many conscious memories of that night, but I do remember my Daddy putting a mattress on the floor of the kitchen for us to sleep on. This was the side of the house away from the direction of the winds. And him going out during the calm in the eye of the storm to nail shut the garage door that had been burst open.
With my history, and still having family and friends in the West Indies, my attunement to the path and impact of these powerful weather systems isn’t surprising – particularly when I’m in touch with the personal stories of people involved.
My brother, a 747 cargo plane pilot, was in Houston in the midst of Harvey’s flooding, and it was uncertain how and when he (and the plane) would be able to get out. Our family was watching the situation there closely – hoping that he’d be able to get out in time to join us for our family reunion the next week.
It was during the time we were together that Irma struck. My brother shared with us a video he’d received. A woman clearly stunned as she wanders through the absolute devastation near her home in Tortola, BVI. Trees totally stripped bare of leaves and branches, houses demolished, cars flattened by flying debris, and people in shock – trying to take in the enormity of what had happened.
Less than 2 weeks later, Maria rolled through, causing massive damage in Dominica, before heading on up the island chain. And recovery won’t be quick. A friend in Puerto Rico posted on Facebook that she survived the hurricane, but with the loss of services throughout the island hasn’t been heard from since.
In that post, she said in part, “There is no doubt that there will be grief in this land. And truthfully, at this time I have no clue to what has happened to anybody around here. So many kinds of losses yet to be faced…
And yet, as the story goes in the circle of life, rebirth, cocreation and all sorts of beginnings await. Nature has definitely called us back to the vulnerability found at the core of Life and the lessons we may learn will allow us to rise- together.”
In a remarkable way, even in the moment, she was clearly seeing a way that Maria, in addition to being a tormentor, also had the potential to be a valuable ‘tor-mentor’.
How we meet these determines whether these experiences become ‘tor-mentors’.
Events, experiences, even our friends and family are often upsetting. Whether or not they’re trying to torment us, in his book You Are The One You’ve Been Waiting For, Dr. Richard Schwartz, developer of the Internal Family Systems model invites us to “Use the feelings from those episodes as trailheads … to focus on the hurt part of you and ask where it is stuck in the past. In doing that, you will be following the trail of emotion to its source … and in witnessing it, you will be able to heal it and learn to care for the exile(d part of you) that carried it.”
I was noticing, that the degree of emotional charge I was feeling around all these hurricanes was surprising. I was following the weather and news reports closely, and feeling unusually concerned and moved when I heard the way limited communication got in the way of families being in touch, and the pain of the uncertainty of the well-being of their loved ones.
So this week, first with the support of my husband, Bruce, and then with my friend Susie Weller, I sat with those feelings and followed them to their trailhead. It led me back to my 2 year old self in hurricane Janet. And as I witnessed her upset, she let me know (and I’d never before had access to this) that her fear wasn’t about her physical safety, her Daddy was there providing that for her. Her big terror, which this current experience with the series of hurricanes had evoked, was that something would happen to my nanny Lotta, who wasn’t with us, and that she’d never come back.
I was grateful to meet that tender part of me for the first time, and after holding and soothing her upset, I was able to begin the process of mentoring her into the deeper truth around connection. Since then, as I’ve allowed myself to pause and be curious, I’ve experienced a whole other level of impact of being attuned and paying attention to what’s been happening inside me, and the result has been both surprising and remarkably freeing.
Lotta holding and loving me – her influence on my life continues to ground me in the way I live and love
While I was writing this, there was a part of me that said “With all the devastation in our world, this kind of inner reflection is self indulgent.” And as I said before, in no way do I want to minimize the pain and suffering of those directly impacted by these hurricanes.
But as soon as I heard that voice inside me, I paused for a moment and paid attention. In a way that I’m sure Lotta would have done for me, I scooped that part of me into the arms of my imagination and saying “Oh honey, I love your heart and the way it reaches out when it feels the pain of others’ experience. And I also know that you (like many of us in our world) have been conditioned to believe that paying attention to yourself when others are in distress is selfish. And while I get the grain of truth in that (we ARE all connected and what impacts one of us impacts us all) I want you to remember the deeper truth this points to.
As a human beings, we need to attend to and honour ourselves first, then others.
Doing so frees us up to be present to what is here now, without being distracted by our own old unresolved painful experiences. So rather than being selfish, attending to your concerns actually allows me to be more generous. It gives me greater freedom to be deeply present to these kinds of situations, and more easily able to take action and hold space for others impacted by these (and other) tormentors.”
It only took a moment for me to ‘say’ this. As she re-membered and that truth was anchored more firmly in her/my body, with a deep breath my whole being relaxed. That part’s trust in her relationship with me was deepened, and I could go on to share this with you unencumbered by any sense of shame or concern.