Saturday, September 9, 2017 is a sad day.
I returned home to Sanibel with my wife after a trip to the fires of Washington state on Tuesday.
As we landed at the airport, my wife called a local hotel and asked about vacancies. We were told there were none. We were so fortunate to be greeted at the airport by good friends and to be contacted by other friends on the island making sure that we were ok and asking about our plans for the hurricane. My wife had a medical procedure on Thursday morning, and people were most gracious in asking about her well being. On Thursday afternoon, I went to Bailey’s to get a few supplies. I was surprised at how full the shelves of food were. While walking around, one of the employees stopped me and asked if I was finding everything I needed. I told her that I was and commented on how full the shelves were. She told me that Bailey’s was just trying to take care of its customers and be there for them. I asked her if the store would be closing on Friday. She said that at that time they still had plans for regular hours because they needed to take care of the people of Sanibel. This was a wonderful encounter.
I am not necessarily a fan of the governor, but I have been impressed with his news conferences concerning Irma where he has urged people to save their lives, has spelled out what he was doing to bring fuel and resources to Florida. His message has been consistent, kind, and genuine in seeking life for the people he governs. The posturing of politics was absent. Later on Thursday afternoon, I heard that the island would be evacuated on Friday. It was a precautionary measure, at that time, but the authorities had made a compassionate case. Subsequent predictions have changed expectations, and now Sanibel seems to be in line for a direct hit. I am sitting in Palm Beach Gardens. I am sad. I am expecting that my home will be badly damaged if not destroyed. I am sad that I have been extracted from the community spirit that makes Sanibel special to deal with this crisis.
Also, on Thursday, I was sent a photo of a sign at St. Isabel Church. It was a crudely lettered sign with picture of the hurricane pinwheel and the curt message ‘Church Closed.” This was in stark contrast to the day before Hurricane Charley when parishioners gathered at Mass and prayed together. This is in stark contrast to the people on the island to the employees at Bailey’s. “Church Closed”. This means stay away; we have nothing to offer. We do not care about you; we are taking care of ourselves. It is not Irma that caused this change, but Irma highlights the character of the change. Bishop Frank Dewane has made landfall in Sanibel. He has tried to destroy a most excellent priest. He works to destroy the community of St. Isabel. He targets only people, leaving structures unscathed while he seeks additional funds. He issues pompous pronouncements as chair of a committee of the US Conference of Bishops and provides links to his statements from his web site. He does nothing to demonstrate he believes what he says. I do have a sense of dread as the possibility of the complete loss of my home looms. I have already experienced what is a greater loss that the wrath of a prestige seeking bully has inflicted on our island, on our parish, on the church.
Irma may take our homes and possessions. We can rebuild. Frank Dewane takes the elements of our lives of faith and forces us to look elsewhere for sustenance. Perhaps the Vatican authorities will mimic our civic leaders that encourage us so effectively through the natural disaster that is Irma and take constructive and positive action that leads us past the disastrous bishop so that his bluster and blowing will be overcome.
May God bless the people of Sanibel who so graciously show his mercy and love.
William G. Gray