28: Humor + Faith = Recovery

28: Humor + Faith = Recovery

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Humor + Faith = Recovery

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

~Oscar Wilde

By the time Hurricane Ike came ashore, 2008 already had been a difficult year for my family.

In May, at age fifty, my mother suffered a severe case of mononucleosis, an ailment most people experience by their late teens. Like many ailments, “mono,” as the virus is usually called, is worsened with age, leaving Mom to use a month of sick leave in an effort to recover. Little did we know, then, how the term “recovery” would take many different forms prior to the year’s end.

In June, a week after Father’s Day, my dad passed away at the age of sixty-one. Dad’s death, while somewhat expected given the multitude of his ailments, was still a surprise. After all, are we ever really ready to say goodbye? Granted death is not an easy process for anyone to accept, but my father’s passing was especially difficult for me.

On a balmy Sunday afternoon, I had been talking with my father about a baseball game and our plans for the future. Three hours later, Dad was gone, the victim of a massive heart attack. It was a reality check for me, recognizing how precious and brief our stay on this earth can be.

Over the years, thanks in part to my own life’s adversity and the obstacles I had to overcome as a premature infant, I thought I understood the meaning of faith and the strong will to survive. It took Hurricane Ike, the third blow in an already trying year, for me to fully appreciate the beauty of our individual strength and a human’s motivation to recover.

Mom had a two-week vacation at the end of the summer. The vacation was something Mom pre-planned in February, and she made it quite clear the break was going to be devoted to “small household repair and reorganization.”

During those weeks, spanning the end of August and beginning of September, Mom and I spent quality time together, straightening, cleaning, and re-beautifying the inside of our home.

Near the end of her vacation, with all of our “goals” met, we marveled over our accomplishments: the sweet smell of fresh lavender paint in our home’s front hallway; the varied aromas from burning candles purchased during a respite in our cleaning mission; and the restored neatness of our upstairs, thanks to plastic storage bins and shelving units.

While we celebrated this small success, we kept an eye on the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Ike was forming and preparing to change our lives and the landscape of our region forever.

Ike formed off the coast of Africa on September 1st, which was Labor Day. While we in Southeast Texas enjoyed our holiday and our final barbecues of the summer, we were oblivious to the fact that Ike would cause months and likely years of “labor” for the residents of our region.

By September 7th, the “eyes of Texas” were watching Hurricane Ike more closely and making the typical mad dash for last-minute hurricane supplies. Two days later, as Ike continued his path across the Atlantic and into the Gulf of Mexico, both gasoline and ice were in high demand and short supply.

On September 10th, Mom’s vacation ended and she returned to her role as a nurse at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. By the time Mom left for work, we were becoming more nervous at our home in Texas City, fifteen miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline.

While Mom worked, I carried the swimming pool furniture and other possible “hurricane debris” to the garage and noted the eeriness in the air. The sky was so dark that it was nearly black—there were no visible stars—and the air was unnaturally calm. Though the storm was still a little more than two days from landfall, it had become quite clear that tough times were brewing offshore.

In the early hours of September 11th, Mom and I met with our neighbors. Some were planning to ride out the storm in their homes, while others were making final preparations to evacuate. Our community was not planning to issue mandatory evacuations. The decision to stay or leave would be ours alone. At first, we decided to stay.

But that afternoon, Ike made a turn to the east, meaning that the Houston/Galveston area would, at best, be on the more dangerous side of the storm, with the possible storm surge reaching twenty-four feet or higher. Mom and I packed some of our most prized belongings in the van and headed toward the East Texas town of Lufkin.

Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 13th.

As Ike pushed farther inland, we lost power in Lufkin, and for the next day we worried about the condition of our home. On Sunday, our next door neighbor told us via cell phone that our house had survived well—the windows were intact, and other than a few downed tree limbs, we were okay. Our hopes could not have been higher, but they’d soon be crushed.

A few hours after the good news, we received a phone call from neighbors who reported that our brick chimney had broken, pushed through our roof, and was sitting in our living room, leaving an eighteen by twenty-four foot hole in the roof between our two skylights.

We would not be allowed to return home until September 17th. When we arrived home, our neighbors flocked to our sides to assist us. We opened the front door to find a six-foot tall debris pile in what was once our living room, a blocked stairway, broken banister, and damaged wood paneling.

I ducked under the fallen steel roof beams, walked across pine needles and insulation to the stairs, and then carefully climbed upstairs to the view I’d always loved. I looked toward the skylights and the gaping hole in the roof which showed a beautiful blue sky and fluffy white clouds.

Without hesitation, I exclaimed, “Wow! A third skylight!”

My neighbors could not believe I was making jokes instead of crying, but laughter is always good medicine.

It was with that joke that I knew, given time, everything would be okay. Humor, when added to faith, can equal our individual recovery from any difficult situation.

Hurricane Ike taught me so.

~Jill Eisnaugle

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