A reflection from Sanibel Author: Charlene Costanzo
Never is a long, undependable time, and life is too full of rich possibilities to have restrictions placed upon it.” – Gloria Swanson
We almost closed our hearts and turned our backs on Sanibel in 2004, when we saw the island a month after Hurricane Charley pummeled it.
Anyone who visited Sanibel before August 13, 2004, which was the day the CAT 4 hurricane hit the island, had to have seen the spectacular arching tunnel formed by the 40 ft. Australian Pines over Periwinkle Way. In fact, they had to pass under it if they drove on the island’s main thoroughfare.
For me, traveling through that arch, under all those feathery pines, was like entering a magical portal. I think I loved and appreciated that arch and those trees even more than I loved Sanibel’s plentitude of shells. Whenever I passed through it, awe and wonderment were stirred in me.
Due to their shallow intertwined roots, on that fateful day when Charley battered Sanibel with sustained winds of 131 MPH, more than a thousand of those beautiful but non-native pines were yanked from the soil, broken into pieces, and downed like a long string of dominos.
As often happens after a hurricane, bright, balmy weather returned quickly, but for five days residents could not return to their homes. The sky may have been clear and the sea may have calmed, but roads were impassable. Debris was everywhere. Virtually every kind of tall tree had been toppled.
When we visited, the roads had been cleared but a lot of debris still needed to be removed elsewhere. The vegetation that was left standing along Periwinkle and throughout the island was scrubby, squatty, short, and thorny. It looked as if the Sanibel we knew and loved didn’t exist anymore. It was painful to see. Like many people, we grieved.
That visit was just for a day. We happened to be on nearby Marco Island for a family event. We were unable to stay on Sanibel for even one night, nor did we want to. As we went about the island, despite the presence of so much destruction, we witnessed a spirit of fellowship. As often happens in the aftermath of devastation, the best of human nature was drawn from people. At least it appeared that way as we drove around.
When we stopped in the grocery store, we witnessed displays of kindness and overheard expressions of compassion, courage, and optimism. We felt strength and hope even more when we talked with a few residents. Nevertheless, we left that day feeling certain we would not return. It seemed as if a chapter of our lives had been completed.
Despite our initial certainty that we would not return, not only did we return multiple times, but over the years since Charley, we introduced many friends and family to Sanibel. We even purchased a little condo on the island.
The first time we returned, we had not known that more than 3000 mahogany, oak, gumbo limbo, and other trees suitable for the climate had been planted. Even though those trees were young and short when we first saw them along Periwinkle, we recognized them as signs of hope and faith. Eventually, they would create a new canopy over the roads.
As I remember this about Charley and write about it in 2020, I’m picturing how stripped and messy the island looked after the hurricane, how neat and clean it appeared the first time we returned, and how lush and tropical it looks today.
The takeaway for me is: Don’t give up. If you value something or someone, even if all seems lost or nearly dead, don’t give up. Not on health, dreams, people, or principles. Hold hope, call upon strength, use courage and compassion, and apply love with faith.
And never say “Never.”
from The Twelve Gifts from the Garden: Life Lessons for Peace and Well-Being
by Charlene Costanzo
Published by Mango in 2020
The Twelve Gifts from the Garden is available on Sanibel at the Big Arts Gift Shop, (239) 395-0900.
The reflection above, written in 2020, is the author’s personal experience and response immediately after Hurricane Charley and how her perspective changed well before the island recovered. Although Sanibel today is not yet a picture of thriving lushness, the author says the takeaway now, not long after Ian, is the same message as the one after Charley: Don’t give up. If you value something or someone, even if all seems lost or nearly dead, don’t give up. Never say never.
About the Author:
Charlene Gorda Costanzo is an award-winning author, experiential event facilitator, speaker, wife, mother of two adult daughters, and grandmother of twins. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Bonaventure University and an M.A. in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.
She loves to read, write, travel, swim, hike, dance, dabble in art, learn new things, befriend strangers, and – most of all – be with her family. Hearing from readers is right up there with spending time with family and being in nature.
Click here to read Charlene’s Full Bio
(c) 2020 Charlene Costanzo, reprinted with permission