A Hurricane, A Random Text and an Open Heart

Relationships | Courage | Kindness

Distance doesn’t count when you follow your instincts.

two palm trees at the ocean side with an approaching storm
Image by Ольга Фоломеева from Pixabay.jpg

There are moments, even in the midst of great tragedy or disaster, when magical connections are made and miracles can happen

A few years ago, I joined an online writing group. Every week we were challenged to write a poem using two words chosen by another member of the group. I enjoyed the experience, as it focused my thoughts and sometimes inspired my writing in new ways.

The two rules of the group were;

  • Posts had to be inspired by the two words of the week and
  • Encouraging and supportive comments for each post were strongly suggested.

I enjoyed making new friends from all over the world.

Their poetry was rich and filled with interesting viewpoints and styles of writing. The act of telling our stories in a group was often healing and a bond grew between us.

Writing to a two-word prompt brought a hint of discipline to my poetry.

I usually write in a style you could call ‘all over the map.’

One writer was an American I’ll call James. He lived in Puerto Rico with his family. Writing in a laid back, relaxed style, he shared an interesting perspective about his beautiful island home and I always enjoyed his insights.

In the fall of 2017, hurricane Maria was approaching the nearby island of Dominica. The world watched in dismay as it wiped out much of the housing and agriculture, leaving the islanders without power and shelter.

Many of our online friends were worried about James as the hurricane moved towards Puerto Rico.

We reached out to warn him, hoping he had plans to move to a safe shelter.

He reassured us they were relocating from their hilltop home to a friend’s house which was more protected from the winds. They were concerned, but the locals were less so, having survived many hurricanes before.

They boarded up their windows and secured anything likely to be blown away. They moved their larger animals into a corral at the bottom of a ravine and they stockpiled food and water.

Large storms weren’t unusual in that part of the world, so he wasn’t too worried.

The day before the storm, I checked the news. It didn’t look good.

On a whim, I sent James my cell phone number, in case he needed to reach out if the internet was down.

It was unexpected, I’m sure. We weren’t really close, but I was worried.

I acted on my instincts and I couldn’t explain why.

I could tell he was surprised, but he graciously accepted it. He was confident all would be well. They were sure they were prepared for what was to come.

The storm hit Puerto Rico with major force, wiping out much of the infrastructure on the island and the internet did go down. Cell phone coverage was spotty and the phone lines were overwhelmed by people trying to find out if their loved ones were safe.

The next morning, at 6:09 a.m. Pacific, I was surprised to receive a text message from James, saying he and his family had made it through the night. It was a pretty generic message. He reported they were safe and sound but the electrical delivery systems were down and that he had no internet connectivity.

He was astounded when I replied.

He’d been trying to get a message out for hours. None of his texts were going through to anyone.

My cell phone was the only working connection he had.

In an outpouring of relief, he told me they had no contact with the outside world. He’d been sending messages to every phone number he had, hoping for a response.

When I realized what was happening, I reassured him I would relay whatever information he needed to send.

I was able to post a message on his Facebook page to let his family know he was safe. There was an outpouring of response as they had been anxiously waiting for any message from him. People were understandably relieved and I passed their messages back.

There was another hurricane approaching and rumors were flying around his island. I relayed up to date news of its approach and he was able to assuage some of the fear other islanders were feeling.

We called it the “Canadian/Caribbean Unicorn Messaging Service”.

This magical connection lasted for several days; keeping friends on both sides informed when there was no other link open.

Eventually, phone lines cleared and internet service was repaired. James was relieved to be able to call and hear his family’s voices. I’m sure they were happy to hear him as well.

Both of us were so amazed and grateful for the lifeline and I felt blessed by the opportunity to lend a hand to a friend.

For Puerto Ricans, the long process of cleanup and rebuilding began. Many moved back to the States, as their homes were beyond repair.

For me, life went back to normal.

The magic and kindness of strangers continued.

About a month later I received my phone bill, and it was hundreds of dollars more than usual. I called Telus (my Canadian phone provider) to see if they could explain.

I was put on hold while they transferred the call. By the time the agent answered, I had remembered what happened.

The charges were likely due to all the international texting I’d done.

Once I realized what it was, I was fine with the extra charges.

It was worth the cost.

“I understand you have a problem with your recent bill,” said the agent. “Let’s have a look and see what happened.”

“It’s ok,” I said, “I think I figured it out”.

I explained what happened with James and our ‘Canadian/Caribbean Unicorn Messaging Service.’ I told him how my cell phone had been the only link they had to the outside world and how we had used texting to relay messages to his friends.

“Let me see what we can do,” he said.

Then he reversed the charges.

In a single moment, he validated my instincts with an act of kindness of his own.

I was in the right place at the right time. When a friend reached out for help I was able to take his hand because I listened to my instincts and gave him my cell number.

And then a stranger lent a hand by erasing the bill.

That’s when I knew we’re all connected.

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