Panhandle Strong: The Strength of Togetherness

Here at home, fall has taken hold. The leaves have mostly dropped from the trees, the temperatures are on the brisk side, and the overall forecast is cloudy and occasionally gloomy. These are magnificent days to light up the fireplace and curl up with a bowl of soup and a good book.

But last week I was nowhere near my comfy home. I was in the Florida panhandle on a writer’s retreat with a good friend. I used to live in the panhandle and looked forward to visiting the area. Sadly, our old neighborhood was decimated in Hurricane Michael and, one year later, it is still a scene of destruction. My heart broke as I drove through streets I no longer recognized, but, as rebuilding continues, the resilient spirit of those living there is on full display.

I’m not a stranger to natural disasters. Shortly after my husband and I were married, we experienced our first hurricane together. Our city was bullseye for a Category 5 monster and, while we were luckier than most in damage to our home, others just across the street couldn’t say the same. In the weeks after, as we dug out of the debris and waited for power to return, we bonded with our neighbors, cooked the contents of our collective fridges and freezers over charcoal grills, and kept each other afloat until life returned to normal.

Since then, we have lived through hurricanes, earthquakes, and the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Sometimes they were severe and sometimes we were barely affected, but, no matter what, our neighbors were a source of strength.

Stories from the survivors of Hurricane Michael (and other devastating natural disasters) show that when everything is taken from you, hope can be found in the people around you.

Thanksgiving is next week. At this point I am usually working up plans for the holiday: a gut-busting menu, decorations, and a gratitude list. I have so much for which I am thankful and, after my visit to Panama City, my catalog of blessings includes less things and more people who make my life wonderful.

And that, my friends, is what makes Thanksgiving a holiday about more than turkey and all the trimmings. It’s a day to embrace the people in our lives and let them know they are appreciated.

And this year I will be sending my warmest wishes to my former neighbors in Florida as they continue to rebuild. You are not forgotten.

Panhandle Strong, Panama City.

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