Last Saturday I got an opportunity to choose to either embarrass myself playing golf, again, or to do something different.
I chose different. Like having a salad at Danny’s Fried Chicken (no one I know would ever do that), I said no to golf and joined a caravan of men and women going to Panama City to clean up after Hurricane Michael. For me, not every minute was fun. But every minute was completely satisfying, and I came away believing my day was far better spent than it would have been playing golf. This article is about the experience - one that I completely recommend for anyone able to do it!
We started out at the First Baptist Church in Niceville at 5:30 in the morning. We had a dozen people in my crew, 11 men and one young woman, an Arkansas student named Sarah. Sarah proved to be more valuable a team member than any two of the rest of us. She was still making trips to the trash pile long after all the men were anchoring lawn chairs. If she were not trading down, I would happily claim her as one of my own children.
My first lesson was that Sarah, like the other young people I met, had given up her Christmas vacation to volunteer in Panama City. My second lesson was that these “kids” were so into their efforts that they were the only people I’d met in days not distracted by the shiny objects that the rest of us fixate, like Donald Trump, politics, or even Alabama football. They didn’t even seem to know what day it was. Every one of us should be happy to live in a world that will one day be run by these young people.
The final and most important thing I learned was the degree to which words can’t describe mile after mile of heartbreak. From a distance, you see endless blocks of buildings almost whole - until you get close. Each is mostly only a shell, and sometimes, not even that. Panama City, east of the Hathaway Bridge, looks like bugs moving in a dead animal. You will not soon forget what you see.
Every person in Okaloosa and Walton counties could spend weeks helping to clean up and rebuild in eastern Bay County, and Bay County would still be in shambles. We all will be more humble if we remember that, but for several degrees of a right turn at the last possible moment, Okaloosa and Walton would be Bay County. Like a head on collision, Hurricane Michael had no conscience and it left no good memories.
I wish I had insight that would save you from what I saw in Bay County. I know that from my Saturday, that trees are the natural enemy of buildings. I know that even if the wind doesn’t get your home or business, water will. I know that if you have diseased trees or short – needle pines near your home, get rid of them before next season. Get your roof updated to code, if you can. But mostly, don’t ever turn your back on a hurricane. They can’t be trusted to travel as predicted, to be small not large, or weak and not strong. I feel very sure that no amount of new roof or tree trimming would have saved many of the homes I saw in Panama City.
If you are able to serve on a crew, grab a friend and call one of the churches, or Google the Niceville Kiwanis Club for connections to Vern McGraw, who has coordinated the club’s efforts. It won’t be quite as much fun as golf, but you’ll be glad you did.
I am convinced the best way to show the world that you are grateful for what you have is to do what you can to help others.
All of us in the real estate world, lawyers, real estate closers, and Realtors, wish you a wonderful new year.
This article was published in the Coastal Homes publication of the Northwest Florida Daily News on January 5, 2019:http://www.coastalhomesfla.com/Olive/ODN/NWFLDNCoastHomes/