No Ground Beneath My Feet

By Lisa Chandler, 14 October, 2022

When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.  The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell.  – Pema Chödrön

In the wee hours of September 24, while Hurricane Fiona figuratively and literally took the ground out from under us.  Parts of our Island fell apart. Parts of me fell apart too. My outer and inner landscapes have been forever altered.

Until Fiona, I’d felt near death twice.

The first time was years ago in Northern Mexico. I stupidly went SCUBA diving without getting trained. I got into some trouble I didn’t know how to navigate out of.  From start to finish, my panic was only a few minutes, though the memory of feeling like I was drowning is forever etched on my brain. 

The second time was during childbirth. My doula Francine had warned me that I might feel like I was dying during the “ring of fire” stage of labour. She assured me that it was a good thing as it would mean that my baby’s head was crowning and that I’d give birth soon after. True to her word, I did feel near death at a certain point after a long, induced labour. I remember freaking out, and then digging deep, to push through. I credit her sage advice and birth coaching with getting me through that painful and scary stage.  Shortly after I was gifted with a beautiful baby girl. 

Enduring Fiona was different. 

My Fiona fear has a long half-life. Unlike the brief “near death” moments above, my fear over Fiona started in the days leading up to her arrival, and for many punishing hours during. Now I have weird dreams at night, when I can actually sleep, and I worry what will happen in future storms.  

Other than preparing, I had no control. We did what we could. Then I had to surrender. I spent the night believing we might die or be seriously injured. The contents of my stomach turned to liquid, but going to the bathroom seemed like a death-defying act. Each time I braved a trip, I’d watch in fear as our neighbours’ tree practically bent in two with every gust. It eventually did break across the roof of our garage. I was fortunate not to see it happen.

Our garage, post-Fiona, with the neighbours' tree laying across its roof.

I felt very alone. I got through the night by texting my partner Peter. With autism and contagious emotions among our kids, we’d known we had to avoid potential storms inside the house by being separate. It was hard. In the days leading up to the hurricane, I was even angry about it. The night of the storm, breathing, hugging (a thankfully sleeping) daughter tight, and mentally wishing others well, is what got me through. 

It was all punishment and no reward. There was no beautiful baby girl to hold. Of course, being alive and uninjured is not a small thing. That no one on the Island died directly from Fiona’s impact seems a miracle still. What there was, and still is, is devastation, a lot of which I have not seen directly yet.

This was my favourite downtown tree:

My favourite tree, before Fiona.

My partner Peter had my artist friend, Tomoyo Suzuki,  sketch it for me for my birthday this past summer:

My favourite tree. Sketch by Tomoyo Suzuki.

When I went to see it after Fiona, I ended up crying with another woman who was mourning its loss too.

My favourite tree, after Fiona.

As many of you know, we’ve been fortunate to bring many leaders to the Hughes Jones Centre for leadership work with horses. 

The arena, pre-Fiona, at Hughes Jones Centre.

 Ellen Jones’ arena was destroyed during Fiona. Fortunately her herd of horses made it through the storm:

The arena after Fiona.

For years, I have been given privileged access to your hearts, your minds and your humanness.  While I don’t know what you endured during Fiona, I imagine you have harrowing stories to tell. And I also imagine many of you have many feelings you have not felt. And that you, like me, might be grasping for how you can control things to avoid this suffering again?

As I opened, I will close.  

Pema reminds us that life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Staying with the shakiness—the broken heart, the rumbling stomach, the feeling of hopelessness—is the path to waking up.  Learning to relax in chaos, to not panic, to gently and compassionately catch ourselves when things get edgy and practice peace with ourselves and others… it seems like that might be one of Fiona’s only gifts.