September 9th, 9:18 A.M.—Hurricane Irma is making landfall in less than 24 hours. Anxiety fumes are in the air—you could light a match and the room go up in flames.
I’m in a Holiday-Inn lobby. This place is overrun with people. The desk clerk tells me that most guests are evacuees from south and central Florida.
In the main area: televisions are playing—volume cranked high. A few families gather around screens with worried faces.
I meet a Miami man.
“I’m pretty stressed right now,” he says. “We’re crammed in two rooms. My mother’s eighty-three, man. She don’t travel well.”
If the hurricane hits where forecasts predict, he’ll lose his home and his business.
He goes on, “I worked eight years finding new clients. All those twelve-hour workdays, my livelihood is gonna disappear.”
He snaps his fingers.
“This is my wakeup call, dude,” he adds. “I’ve spent too much time with my business, not enough time with my son.”
I meet a woman. Late sixties, wiry, with white cropped hair.
“Lost my husband two months ago to cancer,” she says. “And this hurricane might destroy our house, where we raised our kids.”
A few weeks ago, she started riding a bike to help fight depression. She brought the bike with her to help release nervous energy.
“I told God this morning,” she says. “Go ahead, take my house. It’s all just stuff anyway. I’m just grateful to have my kids with me this weekend.”
I meet a man with a long beard. He is six-four, and roughly the size of a General Electric refrigerator. His family lives in Central Florida.
“I’m with my wife and son,” he says. “But my mama and baby sister are evacuating now, they’re still stuck traffic.”
He shows me a cellphone photo of a traffic jam.
“My sister’s freaking out,” he says. “She’s twelve. I try to tell her funny stories to make her laugh.”
His sister begged him to stay on the phone—she’s scared. So, even though he’s with his own family this weekend, he has kept his sister on the line for the last few hours.
“Say ‘hi’ to Mister Sean,” he says into his cellphone.
A voice rings from the device. “Hi, Sean.”
The television screen shows Florida’s governor, speaking. He’s telling Floridians to get out of Dodge. And fast.
The lobby falls to a hush.
When the governor’s speech is over, a large black man with white hair walks toward the television and turns it down.
He says in a loud voice:
“Dear Heavenly Father, grant us grace…”
Everyone bows heads—even the staff. That’s what we do in this part of the world.
The man goes on, “Lord, keep us near friends and family, keep our children free from fear, keep our eyes on important things. Make us strong in the face of danger.
“May we do unto others as we’d have done. May we be brave enough to help any who might suffer…”
I wish I could remember everything else he said, but I can’t.
All I remember are the few of us, complete strangers, who bowed heads and joined hands in the lobby.
May God bless Florida.
About the Author: Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His columns have appeared in The Birmingham News, The Tallahassee Democrat, South Magazine, the Bitter Southerner, Thom Magazine, Mobile Bay Magazine, and he has authored five books.
You can read more of his work on his website here.