Don’t judge me too harshly until you read all the way through…
My husband and I own a house in Beaufort, SC – just north of the dot labeled Savannah. He bought the house in 2006 while he was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort. In 2007 the housing market crashed and the house was worth half of what he paid for it. In the years between 2012 (when he got out of the Marines) and today, we have rented the house waiting for the market to rebound enough that we can sell it and at least break even.
A few weeks ago, my husband got a phone call from a realtor we’ve been in contact with. She was calling to let us know that comparable properties are selling at a high enough price that it might be worth our while to consider listing ours. A week ago, he decided that he was going to head down to discuss the options with the realtor and our rental management company this coming weekend. As of noon today – Monday, September 2nd – the county our house is in is under mandatory evacuation in preparation for Hurricane Dorian’s arrival.
When hurricanes first organize and begin to move west, weather outlets all over the world release spaghetti models of the anticipated path. Early in the hurricane’s life, the spaghetti models look just like someone threw spaghetti at the wall – they’re all over the place. But as the storm’s trajectory becomes better understood and more accurately mapped, my anxiety level either rises exponentially or dissipates. Dorian had my anxiety level quite high.
For the bulk of the last week, the hurricane was supposed to head solidly toward Florida, leaving southern South Carolina in the area that would face tropical-storm-strength winds and some rain, but nothing overly concerning. Between the time that Dorian made its most recent change in trajectory and the time that the announcement of Beaufort County’s evacuation plan was made, there were not enough hours for us to get to Beaufort to board up the house and get back out before evacuations began. The rental management company does not board up the houses they manage, but others in town will do it for you if you have an arm and a leg to pay them and already have boards cut to size and on premises. So we just have to wait.
The house we own is a two-unit condo. It’s part of a home owners association (HOA). The HOA insurance covers everything from the studs out, while our personal home owners insurance covers everything from the studs in. If something happens to the house, we have to deal with two insurance companies. If something happens to the house, we have to go to Beaufort to take care of it. If something happens to the house, we have to travel 775 miles to get there. And oddly, hurricanes don’t seem to care what our schedule is or when trips to Beaufort may or may not be convenient. It would be a nightmare, right? One insurance company is bad enough, but two…
Every time a hurricane is headed toward our house in South Carolina I get nervous.
Every time a hurricane is headed toward our house in South Carolina, all of the “what ifs” begin to rumble around through my brain.
Every time a hurricane is headed toward our house in South Carolina, I selfishly want one of two things to happen: I want it to leave our house completely untouched OR I want it to level it. Take it to the concrete slab. Leave nothing for us to fix…just an insurance company payment and a goodbye to a once-loved home turned pain in the rear end rental. I don’t want a roof to fix. I don’t want broken windows or damaged siding. If it’s going to sustain damage, I just want it gone.
At least I think that’s what I want.
I have the luxury to think that’s what I want.
I have the luxury to think that’s what I want because that house is not my home.
I have the luxury to think that’s what I want because that house does not shelter my family or provide space for my livelihood.
I have the luxury to think that’s what I want because the worst that can happen to me as Hurricane Dorian barrels toward the east coast is paperwork and an expenditure of an unknown amount of money. I live a privileged enough life to be in a position to believe that a total loss to property that we own is a better end result than the inconvenience of partial damage.
What a privilege…
And then I think about the families who are at risk of losing their homes, or who already have. I think about the individuals who have lost their livelihoods, or who will in the days to come. And I think about the people who have lost their lives, or might as the storm continues on its course.
It breaks my heart.
It makes me mad at myself and at my own selfishness.
It gives me perspective.
The structure we own in South Carolina is just that – a structure. Yes, we own it. Yes, it is a financial investment. Yes, it is also a financial burden. But most importantly…
It is just a thing.
Look at this video. Look at it! Know that there are plenty more where this came from.
And I have the nerve to worry about whether a house that I don’t live in might sustain partial or total damage? I have the nerve to be afraid for four walls and roof? I have the nerve to begrudge the possibility of having to do “too much” paperwork?
Nope…that stops now.
I’ve witnessed hurricane damage from afar throughout my entire life. The television news hour always brought it into my living room. In May, I went on a mission trip with the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) to Puerto Rico and witnessed a hurricane’s power from inside the damaged living rooms of others.
The damage done in 2017 isn’t even close to being fully repaired today, but I got to witness the tenacity of the people living there. I witnessed what it is to lose your home. I witnessed what it is to live amidst the chaos of reconstruction. I witnessed what it is to rely on the help and generosity of a neighbor, a church family, and an extended global community. I also witnessed profound and inspiring faith in the midst of disruptive and costly destruction. I got to witness life moving on.
I witnessed the same thing in Beaufort in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew had come and gone. I am certain that I will see all of those things and more in the coming days after Dorian fizzles out. In seeing the human spirit’s resilience in the face and wake of true destruction and uncertainty, I comprehend more completely the insignificance of any threat to a structure that we own but do not live in.
I am grateful for this new perspective…although I can’t guarantee that it will always be the first lens through which I view an incoming hurricane. But I’m trying.
I am grateful for our two insurance companies and the knowledge that any damage that might be done is damage that can be undone through their coverage.
I am grateful that the house in South Carolina is not my home.
I am grateful.
I pray for the people who have experienced loss to Hurricane Dorian already.
I pray for the people who are in the hurricane’s path in the days ahead.
I pray that their houses, livelihoods, and lives are spared.
I pray because we are only partway through hurricane season and the storms only seem to be intensifying.
I pray that our house is spared.
I pray that I remember my new perspective if it’s not.
When you’ve finished praying, please act. Consider donating to UMCOR – the United Methodist Committee on Relief. 100% of your donation will go to recovery and rebuilding efforts. Or build a cleaning kit or hygiene kit with your family or friends. I will gladly pick it up from you or tell you where you can drop it off. These kits change lives in the wake of devastation. Donate blood. DO NOT send unwanted or unasked for goods to affected areas. They become hindrances, not help.
As the hurricane season continues, please remember that you can make a difference in the lives of the individuals, families, and communities affected by these devastating storms.
Those who have been affected can make a difference in your life, too.
They certainly have in mine.