The cover of this month’s Texas Monthly has an incredible aerial picture of our island under a headline “Galveston Island.” Robert Draper interviewed many locals including Heber Taylor, Shrub Kempner, Leon Phillips, Dr. Bill Merrell, Mayor Jim Yarbrough, Irwin M. “Buddy” Herz Jr. and me about how Galveston has recovered in the seven years since Hurricane Ike, against the backdrop of our history of surviving storms since 1900. Draper did a good job describing how unique we are in our psychological approaches both to storm preparation and recovery.
The image of our island on the magazine cover is a beautiful yet shockingly dramatic visual portrayal of how fragile and unprotected our barrier island is in the Gulf of Mexico. My first reaction was, “Oh my God, we live on that tiny, narrow island!”
I remember former Sen. Babe Schwartz saying many years ago that people were never meant to live on barrier islands. Yet, for generations, so many would never dream of calling any other place home.
About six feet of water surged through my house during Hurricane Ike. I lost almost all of my physical belongings. For over 17 months, my house was not inhabitable. At first, I was determined never to return to live in a house I could have drowned in. Then I saw how happy so many of my neighbors were once they returned to their rebuilt homes. I wondered how could they be so at peace when we all know it is a matter of time before another major storm hits this island. Then I realized they had all embraced the denial of that truth. That is how we live on such a fragile barrier island. After looking at houses on the mainland for months, I knew my home was on this island. It is where I belong. Once I moved back, I never regretted it.
While a certain amount of denial is an inevitable part of our island life, too much is folly. Dr. Merrell’s Ike Dike project is a costly and huge undertaking. But like flood and wind insurance are necessary to our economic survival, the Ike Dike is necessary for both our economic and physical survival. And the Ike Dike is essential for the economic survival of our state and country, due to the locations of refineries, ports and the space center in Texas. To assume the Ike Dike would benefit only the coast is to not understand how many industries depend on our coastal resources.
Heber Taylor explained to Draper that as a result of the rebuilding process, “we’re better than we were before the storm.” Many of us agree with him, and think the same is true of our spiritual and personal growth. We survived our worst nightmare.
Draper described finding Galveston Island in a “state of … smug tranquillity.” Maybe that is our denial. Or maybe it is what we refer to in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer as “the peace that passes all understanding.”