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A Fish Story

It goes without saying that this past year saw a very active hurricane season which left behind so much disaster and devastation. Another season rolls around and it still seems “normal” for us to focus on the loss. We must admit, we are a society of sensationalists; junkies for “breaking news” and drama, and the adrenalin rush it gives us. We feel a secret sense of relief when we see that “there, but for the grace of God, go I. “ Unfortunately, what we see on TV or on social media is often not the whole story. It’s either a story of great tragedy or one that depicts the fairy tale that everything is okay and nothing happened.

I’m describing here a community that is, more often than not, known as the Vacation capital, Fisherman’s Paradise, and a party town. These are the impressions that many who have never lived here, either as full- time residents or part-time snowbirds, often have of these islands.

But there is another side to these sensationalized stories. There is a side that shows how a community should behave in times like this- about how our One Human Family rallies and begins to heal with the help of our Fellow Human.

The Florida Keys has a history that is as diverse and colorful as her residents. Native tribes, pirates, salvagers, prisoners of war, great authors and our country’s leaders are among those who lived (some still do) here. At one point Key West was the gateway to the Caribbean and the only sign of civilization in the Sunshine State. Men fought and died for her. Key West and the adjacent islands, were bought and sold several times and eventually became government property in the form of a Naval Air Station, Boca Chica.

This resilient spirit is still evident in the islands of present. We are part of the mainland yet separate. It takes a special kind of character to live here and this is why we thrive in the face of uncertainty. When things are going well, we bicker and whine like children who forget how good we have it. But when times are tough, as they have been in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma... 9 months later, we rally together, pull up those bootstraps and take care of business- the business of helping those who have lost. From rides to the grocery store, to hauling huge trees from the driveway, to providing food, shelter and personal supplies when the government drags its feet, we find what is needed and step up.

For so many the sting is still as fresh as the day we got smacked. You can drive up and down the Overseas Highway and still see the blue roofs just like the days that followed Irma's landfall. Granted, so much has been cleaned up, repaired and replaced, but the mess is still so obvious. The scars from the loss of mangroves and the beach erosion are still healing. Total neighborhoods disappeared. Canals still sit untouched and filled with debris. People are living in trailers waiting for the availability of affordable housing or any housing, for that matter. Many simply left.

But you can't talk about hurricane season without mentioning all that goes into preparedness. There are general rules of thumb when planning, depending on the size of your household, including pets, and whether you choose to stay or go. Staying means running the risk of being cut off from the mainland in the event of a state of emergency that outlasts your stash of food, water, and other basic necessities. It also means that the availability of first-response services could be non-existent, so basically, you're on your own. The rule of thumb is to plan for at least 3 days of food, water, medicines. etc. 1 gallon of water per person per day is recommended. Include your pets in this list. For more detailed checklists, click on the links below.

You also can't mention "Irmageddon" without also mentioning the random acts of kindness that find themselves part of the local conversation. One such story is about a fish.

The story begins with the pending arrival of hurricane Irma as the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) was setting things in motion. They set up camp in the government building. The regular employees were gone... all but the fish. Under normal circumstances he was left in the office along with his food and a note that read:,"feed 6 pellets daily" just in case his regular caretaker had to be away for any reason. This was one such occasion.

As Irma made her bullseye on The Keys, the EOC Team was monitoring the situation in anticipation of an emergency or the threat of an emergency and its potential major or critical impact on the community. 6 hours from the impending arrival everyone was to stay put until the storm was over and the all-clear was given. Then came the aftermath.

It was during this state of emergency and in the days that followed that this little fish made a big difference in the lives of unsuspecting humans. As the storm plowed through the islands, no one noticed him sitting on the desk along with the instructions. But shortly after one person took it upon himself to drop in 6 pellets, no more no less, there appeared a scribbled feeding schedule. When folks started coming in for regular shift duty, the first thing they would do was ask about the fish and then "sign up" for fish detail. Something was happening that no one expected as part of their training. In this intimate space, each person was one-on-one with this living thing and felt in control of its outcome. The real world scenario provided no such intimacy, though in such a tight-knit community, chances are the voices we heard on the radio were our neighbors, our friends and relatives. Reaching out to the community via the only communication available was hit or miss. But inside, a few pellets of food to a grateful little fish, kept things grounded and hopeful.

9 months later the little fish remains a resident in the offices. He swims around his bowl, looking for hand-outs from unsuspecting passersby who nod in a sort of reverence, or subconsciously touch his bowl as if to say, "Hey, I'm glad you made it."

This is a true story.

Click on the following links for more information on hurricane preparedness.

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