I first saw the phrase “Roll Tide” in January of 2023. It was spray painted on the roof of a building that had been demolished by the 8-to-12-foot storm surge of hurricane Ian. According to Google, the urban dictionary defines Roll Tide as a call to action, or a rally call. Indeed, it seems that recently I’ve been conscripted into battles where cherished facets of my world are being attacked by the brutal force of nature.
Eric and I had gone to Sanibel Island after the new year to begin rebuilding our little cottage that had been drowned by Ian. We decided to take a break from our work and drove out along San-Cap Road to see how the rest of the island fared after the hurricane. We inched along in silence, eyes fixed on the unfathomable destruction. Storm waves had ripped The Mad Hatter off its foundation, and its waterlogged remains were in a pile on the opposite side of the street. The Sunset Grill was nothing but an upended metal roof surrounded by piles of cinderblocks, beach sand, wood and twisted metal. On both sides of the road, the previously lush, glossy green foliage was now just a mess of shredded stalks, beheaded palms, tangled and matted vines. Most every plant had been burned and choked by the salt water and coated in a grey film of polluted, sulfur-smelling clay. Ian had dredged mud from the sea floor, mixed it with the foul irony of ‘civilization’, and left it as a reminder of that dark day on the sanctuary island, where nature revealed its sinister side.
As much as this destruction on Sanibel and Captiva saddened me, it does not compare to the monumental struggle of caring for my aging parents. That in turn is dwarfed by Mom’s daily battle to try to make sense of a world whose pace of living, values and sense of responsibility is out of sync with her own. A world that she sometimes has a tenuous grip on -- at the whim of a dark and sinister aspect of the mind.
Like hurricane Ian, this battle is a capsizing, heart-wrenching reality that arrived quickly, and changed everything. Just treading water right now seems nearly impossible. It’s as if we’re stranded in the middle of the North Atlantic, struggling, shivering, hypervigilant for the next rogue wave.
It's times like these that test the fabric of a family. On Sanibel, support within the island community has proven strong, as folks don the muck boots, dig out, and help each other rebuild their homes and heal their hearts. I wonder if this will be the case in my family. Who and how many among us will answer the Roll Tide when it comes to Mom? Not with words, not just when it’s convenient. Who will really sacrifice and go out of their way? Who will burden themselves for the sake of those who brought their very existence into being. That’s what family is all about, right? Not just to celebrate the good times, but more importantly to help make the bad times easier to bear.
In a perfect and just world, the weight of care would rest on many shoulders. As members of a family network, we would all contribute to our collective buoyancy. No one would be left flailing in the fray of the storm. From my desk here near Long Island Sound, I stare out at the sharp crests that glare back at me from the angry surface of the steel blue ocean. I remind myself of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emmerson: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.” In my datebook, I set aside time for Mom -- doctor visits, shopping, cooking, and cleaning.
High tide. Low tide. Roll Tide.
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