Puerto Rico is as close to what I imagine Paradise to be like. It’s beyond beautiful. I spent a few days on the Island a couple of weeks ago helping install a clean water system. The forests are growing back and the trees are green again. But you do not have to look too far to find signs of the storm. I think all of us who have experienced the storms of life are like that. The storm passes and the water recedes and the shingles get put back on, but the evidence is still there if we look hard enough.
The best word to describe the conditions in Puerto Rico is, “fragile.” Everything is fragile, from the electrical system, to the water system, to the economic system, to the health care system. The people are fragile too. They know they have been through something, and there is a feeling that somehow they responsible for it– as if they could have controlled the weather. They feel like that should have been more prepared and they are very afraid its going to happen again. Hurricane season is coming and they aren’t ready for another hit. The systems aren’t ready and the memory of the past trauma is too recent. Trauma does that. We can feel responsible for situations that were out of our control.
While I went to Puerto Rico to help put in a clean water system, I also went out of my own fragility. I went to heal from my own trauma, my own vulnerability and awareness that things can happen and have happened that are out of my control. I went to reclaim the parts of me that had been battered by the storms of betrayal, disappointment, stress and fatigue. I went to get perspective on the world and to have my understanding broadened. I went because, I too, am fragile.
If we are honest, we all are.
But make no mistake, the people of Puerto Rico are as resilient as they are fragile. They are determined to repair their infrastructure and get things back to working conditions. They are determined have the measures in place, so that when another hurricane comes, they are prepared. They may be battered, but they are still standing.
Being both resilient and fragile is the paradigm of all living things.
We are all resiliently fragile.
The other day I was visiting someone and praying for them before their surgery and the son of the person said, “So, like, you just go around and give people pep talks before surgeries and make them feel good?” Uh. Yeah. That’s what I do. It’s a humble thing when someone reflects back on you what you do and you realize how insignificant it sounds in the scheme of things. Prayer seems so silly I guess to people who don’t do it or would ever think about needing. How pointless my job must seem.
But in the face of our humanity and our fragility and resiliency, is it not the Divine that keeps us afloat in the midst of the storm? Traumatic experiences remind us that we are all just on this side of heaven. Traumatic experiences remind us that life disrupting events can happen to all of us at any time, that we are all fragile. And because storms come up out of the blue, we all need to be gentle with each other. We need to pray even when we aren’t sure anyone is listening. We need to recognize that when the earth breaks, we all break. When one person suffers, we all suffer. Destruction of creation is destruction of ourselves. Just as our minds and bodies are connected, so too is the earth and humanity. If our minds are in pain, our bodies show pain. If the earth is pain, all of humanity shows pain. If the people of the earth are traumatized by war or disease or injustice, it impacts all of the people of the earth, whether we realize it our not. – We are all connected. I believe that connection to be the love of God. We are God’s people. When God weeps, all of creation weeps. So, coming to someone before a surgery and holding their hand for a few seconds and reminding them that while at this moment they may feel very fragile, they are also very resilient, and they can and will get through this storm… yeah, I think that’s pretty important.
The people of Puerto Rico are recovering from a traumatic event. Someone said to me, “Everyone here has PTSD.” Healing from trauma takes time. Even after the repairs are made, the feelings of worry and uncertainty linger. There is always the fear that it will happen again. There is always life before the incident and after incident, and while we do not want to be defined by those moments, they do shape the way we see the world. We can no longer pretend that we are not vulnerable, that we are not fragile, and even that we are a little broken. And while those moments are life changing, they do not have to be life defining.
Yes, Puerto Rico is fragile. It is also resilient. So am I. So are you.