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 …
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."