The Florida Panhandle: Living at the beach, or as many of us locals refer to it, living in paradise, definitely has its benefits. Not only do we normally get to dress in shorts and flip flops 90% of the time, but we also have quick and easy access to…well, the beach. We are fortunate, we are blessed, and we are most definitely living a dream that many share, but never make reality.

There is a price, however.  One that all beach dwellers must eventually pay for living in paradise. No, I’m not referring to the cost of real estate, gas, or groceries, I am referring to hurricanes.  It’s the price we pay for living in Florida, and it’s not a matter of IF a hurricane will hit your area, it’s really just a matter of WHEN…especially for those living closest to the coastal areas. All Floridians are aware of it, but most of us never really take the time to visualize it or think about it. That being said, the impact that a storm the size of Michael could and did bring is unfathomable…even for the most seasoned of Floridians. We are the type who scoff at category 2 storms, laugh in the face of lesser storms, and just really can’t begin to think that a cat 4 storm…or cat 5… even exists…much less could make land fall in our backyard. Well, it did…and here we are.

…and here we are.

The destruction was…well…unbelievable. Almost three months later, and there are still those without homes, some still without power, and thousands displaced. The economic, social, and physical impact of such a disaster is unimaginable for those who only saw it on the news, and unbelievable for those who lived through it. Michael left a trail of despair and tragedy in it’s path, and as a result, many will never be the same. BUT believe it or not, there is an upside.

You may be thinking, “Upside? How in the world can there be an upside to such a disaster?” I’m glad you asked. Hang with me as I attempt to make a point:

I think we all can agree that we currently live in a divided world. Politically, it seems as if there is no longer a middle ground…on any issue. Selfishness, greed, misinformation, and apathy are ruling virtues of the world; and hopelessness is the most common emotion. I won’t postulate or theorize as to why this is the case…even though I do have some ideas…, but let’s just agree that, prior to Michael, adversarial stances were our default position even in our local communities.

For those of us living in the Florida Panhandle, Michael changed that for most of us. When the entities that so many believe in couldn’t get through their bureaucracies to even lift a finger, neighbors came to the rescue. Neighbors pulled cash from their pockets, food from their cupboards, and love from their hearts to  help those in need. People donated their time, energy, property, and cash. People stepped up, and nonprofits organized when governments and others did nothing.

That’s the positive impact of a hurricane. It tore property and lives apart while bringing many of us closer together. We learned that we aren’t so different, we relearned the capacity for providing hope to others, and we learned to hope once more. That is a great and humbling lesson, and it’s sad that it took a hurricane to do it…but it did.