While driving home this evening, I was listening to NPR interview a woman in Panama City talking about the horrific devastation which all but wiped out that town. The reporter asked her, now that she, her husband and her three year old daughter have lived through that Cat 4 hurricane and lost everything, is she considering moving?
“No, never,” she said. “I was born here; I was raised here; I went to high school here. I could never think of moving away.”
Intellectually, we know that sea levels are rising, enough to fairly soon swallow the Florida coast. Before too awfully long we could see the oceans rage against the south Georgia coast. Intellectually, we know that warming seas are making hurricanes far, far worse. Last year’s Hurricane Harvey was the third 500 year flood in Houston in just three years. The southeastern United States just had two major hurricanes rip through in just the past month.
So what makes this woman so attached to place that she cannot envision escaping even more disaster almost certainly slated for she and her family?
We humans are masters of denial. The obvious can beat us in the face until we are black and blue yet still we can make believe it just isn’t there, at least right up until the time that it actually kills us.
From a family law perspective, we observe this phenomena in domestic violence. She is getting beaten, but he is telling her it is her fault or maybe he’s in the phase where he is apologizing and swearing it will never happen again. Maybe the time before last he was just shoving her down on the bed, last time he was slapping her across the face and this time he was pinning her against the wall while he was choking her. But, despite the obvious, she may well stay in denial and never perceive that it is only getting worse to the point where even though she is black and blue, she will still make believe that the family violence just isn’t there, right up until the time that he actually kills her.
“Nothing here to see,” we tell ourselves. “Just look the other way.” Man, we are good at that.
So how do we burst through that bubble of denial, the very bubble that could lead to deadly suffocation? It seems that if a friend’s life is in danger, we are ethically permitted if not required to engage in an intervention. We should steal her away from her danger, give her sufficient time and safe space to breathe fresh air, removed from the toxic waste dump of her relationship, so that she can actually shift her paradigm. This strategy works best when she’s fresh from a trauma. She’s more open to the concept and the wisdom of escaping. She’s still able to feel the wounds he recently inflicted. Of course, old habits die hard so there is a risk that, after time, she will fall right back into their old pattern and he will go back to his slow attempt to kill her.
Is the same true with these horrific climactic events? Can we perform an intervention? Can we rescue the very people who are most immediately in harm’s way so that they can’t subject themselves to such a dire circumstance again? Once we get beyond the immediate danger, can we rescue society, our very culture, from the suicide pact to which we seem pledged?
Calamity has a way of focusing one’s attention. A monster storm wiping out the Panhandle, raging infernos torching tens of thousands of acres in California, scorching heat searing millions across the planet, climate refugees on the move everywhere provide brief opportunities to the victims to reconsider just how we have structured our lives. Of course, this isn’t true for people like that woman in Panama City.
Whatever it is that keeps a battered woman with her battering man, too many of us seem somewhat similarly lost in our ability to escape our fatal fate. Like the woman in Florida, one day we won’t escape the monster (and neither will her daughter).
But some battered women do sometimes escape. Their journey is dangerous and dramatic and life-altering. Can our culture take a cue from those brave and wise survivors? Is our end inevitable or do we have the will to survive?