I kept writing, and rewriting, this column in my mind as I pondered what I could possibly say to add to the chorus of voices talking about what Hurricane Michael has done to our beloved Northwest Florida. What came to my mind is an old saying that seems to apply right now more than ever.


Many a farmer has said the words, “I’ve got a long row to hoe,” looking at the hard work ahead of him. He didn’t say he wasn’t going to do it, of course. He just acknowledged it, and probably said a prayer for strength to do what was before him.


Likewise, all our beloved communities affected by that awful storm have “a long row to hoe” to regain any semblance of normalcy, and as I drove through some of them on my way to St. Joe Beach after the storm, I was brought to tears by the enormity of the job.


The thousands upon thousands of trees, broken in half like toothpicks, or lying on the ground. The tents pitched in front of now unlivable homes, popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. The utility poles, tossed to the ground as if they were nothing more than pieces of driftwood. The homes. The boats. The cars. The businesses. The churches; so many smashed, damaged or gone altogether.


It is, indeed, a daunting task.


But like the farmer, we Northwest Floridians aren’t giving up. I immediately saw people reaching out to their neighbors, making sure they were safe, and helping them when they could. Businesses, damaged themselves, were opening their doors when safe to do so, for anyone who needed food or a place to just sit for awhile. Churches and fire stations became central safe places for hurting, hungry people, which is so appropriate it doesn’t even need to be explained, really.


Strangers from around the country suddenly showed up en masse, feeding, washing, working alongside us, working for us. The power trucks seen around the area bore the names of companies from cities far and wide, all there to help restore what Michael temporarily took away. The people bringing food trucks and trailers and feeding people without charge are not only feeding bellies, they are feeding hearts and souls.


There’s no way to adequately express the depth of emotions everyone feels right now. The nearly complete devastation of our beloved towns breaks our hearts. The longing for what we had before….light switches that actually turned on a light, faucets that offered clean water to drink and wash with, streets that had no huge piles of debris along their length…those are things that we will never take for granted again, even years after this is all over.


So while we grieve for what is no longer, I know that so many of you are out there, hoe in hand, doing the hard work. I see you. I appreciate you, and I am praying for your stamina, resolve, and protection. People like you will make Northwest Florida even better, even stronger, than it was before.