In the days after Hurricane Irma, many of us waited anxiously, huddled together, for word from friends, family, and loved ones. Slowly the messages began to come in, one by one the words trickled through to us that people were safe, tears dried, minds eased, thoughts of the worst went away. I know because I was sitting, waiting, worrying about the people I love, and their whereabouts.
One image came through which became symbolic for me as an expression of the hope, and enduring spirit of the islands and the people! Perched on a rooftop, spread amongst the devastation was the VI Flag, proudly displayed for us to see…we may be battered and torn, but we are not broken. The Virgin Islands will not waiver in its unyielding resolve to persevere through the hardships!
In the 36 hours after the storm made landfall on St Thomas as a category 5 hurricane, we waited anxiously for word that our friend, was safe. We heard reports that Frenchtown was destroyed, flooded, houses were reduced to nothing. She had been alone, sheltered in a bathtub, our last message from her came through at 1:36 pm. We waited, calls came in from her parents, messages from friends, and still nothing! The last message we got, was a playful spin on our days as snorkel guides in the beautiful waters of the caribbean, a simple fist placed on the head, telling us all, she was still OK. There were no words to describe how we wished we could see just one more image like that make it’s way through to us, just a simple OK…
Then from out of the darkness, a small flash of light, a beacon of hope emerged…a single image came through which brought peace to the hearts of those so worried, and became the symbol for the enduring spirit which grips our tiny island home! Our friend had safely weathered the storm, she was ok.
On the day following the storm, Thursday, as the island began to recover, neighbors scoured the streets checking on people, help was provided for those in need, waste and rubble were removed to make way for emergency personnel to reach affected areas. Rebecca was hard at work, clearing debris, providing assistance to whomever she could, and working tirelessly to help in any way she could. During the morning hours after the storm while sifting through the debris, a small scrap of fabric, tattered and torn, peered out from under the twisted metal and broken timbers that were once homes. A white background, an eagle claw grasping at 3 arrows…a familiar sign, a sign of a community, an island, a sign of hope!
She dug this flag from under the debris, carried it home, climbed on the rooftop of her house and spread it out for the world to see…we are here, we aren’t broken, we are Virgin Islanders, we are VI Strong!
Seeing this image for the first time brought tears to my eyes!
In the days to come many people would help to get our friend to safety, transported first to St Croix, where she worked hard to clear the docks for additional supply runs, and finally to Indiana where she could begin anew! The first order of business, hanging the tattered, beaten, but not broken…a small but important symbol of enduring hope…of strength and courage in the face of enduring hardship, a symbol of a movement…we are VI Strong