Evening colors of Ocracoke’s Silver Lake harbor. Photo: C. Leinbach

Ask a Mental Health Professional Installment No. 7

By Earle Irwin

Question: How do we use what we are learning from Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic to make meaningful changes, both for ourselves and for the world?

Response:  What a thought-provoking question—one that calls upon us to consider the crises we’ve endured as learning opportunities that can help us prepare for the future. This question involves so many layers of complexity that I’ve postponed my response for several weeks as I’ve gathered information. Much of the inspiration has come through the online group of Ocracoke writers—Words on Wednesday:

PART ONE: What have we have we learned that will benefit us here on Ocracoke?

Among what we have learned on Ocracoke in our efforts to recover from Dorian is the importance of community.

Ocracoke residents can feel good about how well they have dealt with the Dorian flood crisis through Community: You rescued each other, mucked out the flood damage together, found shelter for each other, shoulder-to-shoulder began rebuilding together. You have eaten meals together and worshipped together, among your countless efforts at fortifying community. And now COVID-19 presents an extra whammy with scientific-based restrictions on physical community: No gatherings of people, stay home, maintain six feet of distance, don’t touch.

Yes, COVID-19 has challenged this community in your efforts to come together physically to repair and restore lives and property. Residents have stayed closer to home, slowed down, and through a combination of old methods (phone calls, porch visits) and newer technology (social media, video conferencing) found ways to maintain bonds and plan for the future.

The forward movement in Dorian recovery is a force to be revived when the pandemic has passed. The memory of that movement is a hope-bearing inspiration, applicable to that eventual time when COVID-19 abates. From Dorian recovery, Ocracoke residents have learned that Together our whole is greater than our parts and as a Community, we can accomplish what needs to be done.

Ocracoke’s Words on Wednesday writing group has addressed the pandemic portion of this question through creative musings:

The Eyes Have It by Nancy Aldridge, 4/15/20
What’s happening? 
The World, the Whole World, has turned topsy-turvy, downside up,
inside out.
We are staying Apart to survive, yet…
We are coming Together to survive.
Each breath
Each dangerous droplet
Each moment of Life
All are….
Igniting fires of compassion, 
Creating paths of cooperation,
Healing broken-open hearts, 

It is wise for us all to don masks
It is the dawn of new ways on our planet.
What kind of world do we envision together?
What do we see ahead?

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul.
So now, our souls peek out above our protective gear
Signaling that we are consciously giving one another safe passage,
My mask protects you
Your mask protects me

Untitled by Grace West, 4/23/2020 

Standing at the ocean edge
The coolness of the water wafts over me
on the wings of the breeze
The white foam of the incoming tide
Comes close to my toes – inviting –
Shall I wade in
Or run back?
Like the sanderlings, skittering to and fro
Feeding in wet sand, then retreating
Today, I wade in
Simply a choice

Tomorrow I may run back.

A Tipping Point by Nancy Aldridge, 6/3/2020
People are in pain
Crying out for just treatment
Will it ever come?

                  Let us listen well,
Breakdown can become breakthrough
What will we do NOW?

                   Is NOW different
Has a tipping point been reached?
Has it come at last?

                    Can healing begin?
Will racism be addressed?
Are we one nation?

Untitled by Peter Vankevich, 6/24/2020

Once as a teenager, I blurted “You bring out the best in me.”
To a person I greatly respected.
These days, it’s much more “You bring out the worst in me.”
To a society I once greatly respected.
Has insanity and hate reached the level of community spread?
An unstoppable storm surge?
Or, just a rogue wave and calmness to return?

Commentary on “Untitled,” by group member Pat Garber, 6/24/2020

A good question, in poetry form.

Should calmness return? I think the rogue wave can wash out a line of dunes, but not with insanity and hate. I don’t know where we are headed, but I hope not to the same place we were before. Maybe to a place where everyone can say what you once said to someone: “You bring out the best in me.”   

Earle Irwin, a retired clinical nurse specialist, was on Ocracoke through July to help islanders cope with Dorian aftermath and any other issues they may be dealing with. The Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery Team are hoping to find funding to bring Earle back to the island in October.

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