Fearing Man vs. Nature: A Lesson on the Refugee Crisis through Hurricane Joaquin

hurricane joaquin devastation

We write best about that which we know, that which we have felt and experienced.  Most people, if not everyone, have been caught up in fear in some way, shape or form. At the very least, they have had some fleeting encounter of it. But what do we know about fear that overwhelms you? What can we say about an emotion so raw it consumes your mind and your body?

I have shaken hands with Fear as it sat inquisitively next to me on a bus in Ecuador, as it reared its sword during family hardships, when it whispered in my ear on the streets of London. But more recently, I was involuntarily, inescapably tossed into the ring for a face-off with fear during Hurricane Joaquin.

Fear is caused by the unknown or by our projections of what could be. It rears its ugly, menacing head when we are lost physically and emotionally. Essentially, fear appears when we feel helpless.

As I sat tucked in a blanket on a couch in the Bahamas, listening to wind gusts of 200 mph knock on the windows and doors, shivering from damp clothes that could not dry amidst the raindrops seeping through the cracks of the ceiling and walls, hearing shingles pop off while I waited—so much waiting—for the roof to blow off, I experienced fear as I had never felt it before. Previously, my fearful moments had been brief, brought on by accidental happenings and mankind’s ability to inflict an unease upon others. This was my first unavoidable, unwelcome confrontation with fear caused by Mother Nature.

I would not wish it upon my worst enemy.

This was the kind of fear that makes your heart beat in your ears, the sound masked by the growling storm outside. This was a fear that stole precious sleep from every islander for two nights during the storm and weeks, months, after. This was a fear that spoke through the eyes when words became superfluous.

The fear on Long Island and the other southeastern out islands battered by Hurricane Joaquin was not covered in the media. These islands, these people, have largely been left to fend for themselves. These are families that fled their homes, that lost pets and businesses and everything but the clothes on their back. These are people leaning on each other as they pick up to start their lives anew. It is nothing short of miraculous that they survived a force so strong it destroyed their livelihood. Fear reads in their eyes as they stand on the doorsteps of their neighbors seeking refuge.

If this sounds at all familiar, it should. The wake of Hurricane Joaquin is similar in far too many ways to the Syrian refugee crisis today, to the Holocaust and Darfur of our past. Only the cause of the fear is different: man vs. nature.

I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming.

Imagine a society where we don’t help each other, where we turn the sick, the injured, the lost, the lonely, and the fearful away. Long Island, Bahamas would have crumbled in on its already crumbled self.

Think about the aftermath of a natural disaster, instances in which, when appearances not politics are involved, commonly, the US of A is all too willing to help. Imagine if Louisiana and New England had been abandoned following Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. What if we had ignored the cries of Thailand following the deadliest tsunami in history? What if countries had not stood by us during 9/11 or with Paris following the recent attacks? What if, like the victims of Beirut, we were forgotten—no Facebook profile pictures changed to our country’s flag, no national monuments lit up with our prideful colors?  Victims of natural disaster face genocide by Mother Nature. Victims of war face genocide by man.

Today, more than any times past, we are turning our backs on our neighbors. We are actually toying with the idea of closing our doors to individuals based on their religion and the color of their skin. We are avoiding the throngs of cries for help because our brains are fed by one thing and one thing only: Fear.

We, a supposedly progressive, diverse, equalizing, opportunistic country are saying no. America was once powerful because it cared. When did this country stop caring?

There was a time I was proud to call myself a citizen of the United States. I cannot say the same today. Society is fueling a world of ignorance and xenophobic pandering, a planet of division not unity. What happened to strength in numbers and intelligence? Why are we succumbing to radicalists instead of statistics?

Fear is the common denominator here. Bahamians fled their homes in fear of Mother Nature. Syrians are fleeing there homeland—abandoning everything they know—because they fear rifle-wielding terrorists in their backyard. And the rest of the world is giving them the finger.

Wake up, America. Open your hearts, open your minds, open your homes, open your hands. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for once. If America really is a country for, by and of the people, what are we going to let it stand for?

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