As the year draws to an end, as I realize I’ve been somewhat amiss with my blogging for which I apologize in advance, I suppose now is as good a time as any to share with you what I’ve been up to for the past two months.
October 11th I was deployed to North Carolina to help the survivors of Hurricane Matthew. Like all deployments before there is a heightened sense of adrenaline making myself ready to dig in for a big job. But that pumped up feeling is now gone. I feel drained from top to bottom, happy to be back home where I’ve put my game face back on the shelf until the next time. While I love what I do, it’s hard, hard work.
At the beginning of each deployment while everything is still in critical mode, we’re working twelve hour days. Seven days a week. We’re up before the sun. And once the waters have crested and subsided (if it’s a flood disaster), we’re out there in the field knocking on doors, in the mud, in the heat, in the rain, fighting flies, and sometimes you’re even up against folks who are not at all happy to see you. These are people who live so far off the grid, along back dirt roads with their guard dogs, “No Trespassing” signs and KKK flags flying high that you’d be an idiot not to think twice before stepping onto their turf, especially me with my “Levine” badge roped around my neck for all to see.
But this is the job. This is what I signed up for. And even though I’m aware of the danger every time I knock on a door, my thoughts are much more focused on helping someone who might have otherwise fallen through the cracks. That is why I do what I do. I want to make a difference to someone because it makes me feel good. Makes me feel like I am doing something important. Something authentic while living each day congruently with the values I hold dear.
For me working with FEMA has been a dream fulfilled. And beyond the hard days and pockets of devastation that penetrates the experience, I know each and every time I will come home with a new treasure trove of life lessons that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I get to travel to places and see things I wouldn’t normally.
This was my first trip to North Carolina. For the time of year, it was unusually warm and yet Fall somehow showed its face. And what a glorious face it was. Cotton never felt softer than it does when still young and bursting from its pod. Streams teaming with trout and glittering like diamonds against the afternoon sun just as I caught this shot. And the frying pan and ice cream truck … well those were just added bonuses. Perked up my day like you wouldn’t believe!
I get to meet new friends.
Some might just be passing through, but some are more. Much more. With each deployment, like an old woman gathering acorns in her basket, I have found the most remarkable people I now call “friends.” People who have enriched my life and under different circumstances I might never have spoken to for one reason or another.
A James Cromwell (Green Mile movie) tall wisp of a man who shared my passion for writing. A tiny redhead from Puerto Rico I met during Hurricane Sandy who became my voice of reason. A guy with the last name Jimenez that didn’t speak a lick of Spanish and made me laugh at moments when I wanted to cry. A bald as a cue ball, ex-biker with an earring and tattoos up the yin yang who held me captive in the car every day forcing me to work by his side while he talked about the paranormal and whatever else he felt like discussing for the day. The list of those people who have come into my life through FEMA goes on and on. I am so grateful that our paths have crossed. That they dared to open their hearts to me. And never moreso grateful that I had enough sense to pay attention to that old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover.”
I’ve been fortunate when I go out on deployment. Other than falling here and there, I’ve never gotten hurt on the job. And I’ve never been in an accident of any kind. Well, this deployment certainly changed all that for me. Less than two weeks into it, while driving, I was hit by an 18-wheeler. The front left side of their car was crushed like a pancake. And four weeks after that, the second rental was again demolished when I hit a dog on the highway. I can’t begin to express all the things going through my mind during that two-second clip from the time I saw the dog stopping in the middle of the road as I came barreling down upon it at 75 miles per hour, other than I broke in two.
Patience is a virtue I’ve yet to master.
I’m constantly reminded of this. And sometimes I wonder if I ever will.
My first month of deployment I was saddled with a crew lead who not only didn’t know what the hell she was doing, she like many aging people, kept repeating herself. Oh my God. Talk about torture. But I kept thinking about my mother. I kept thinking about the fact she’s losing her words, she’s no longer connected to a chain of conversation for any length of time and I must do better. For her. And for me I suppose knowing it’s only a matter of time before I too ride that choo-choo into La La Land.
Your health is all you’ve got.
I’m not one to make resolutions, but for 2017 I’m making an exception. When deployed, I tend to do all the wrong things. Eat the wrong things and not take care of myself like I should. Not because I want to. But because the job forces the situation. That and I think we get lazy riding around a car all day, out in the boonies where we’re lucky to find a McDonald’s or Hardees. So we grab what we can, when we can.
Which was my exact thought when I found this little kiosk. Was this luck or what?
As I look back on my time in North Carolina, there were many days my heart was heavy. For the families who’d lost everything, and their whole world was left piled out on the street in one soggy heap for all to see. For the animals left abandoned, abused, their limbs quivering as we drew near wondering if we were going to pet them or beat them. I can’t wipe those images from my mind. But I can counting my blessings. Every single one of them. Especially this beautiful one I know is waiting for me when I get home.
As I push through all these thoughts, I can’t help but wonder are the choices we make in our lives fated. Are we truly the masters of our domain? I like to think we are. That nothing in this crazy world of ours is set in stone. And that the best has yet to happen.
On that note, I will end with much thanks. Thanks for reading. And thanks for letting me share my thoughts with all of you.
Peace and love.