“We were without power for six or seven days and without water for nine or ten. Being without water was worse than being without power. There’s things you can do if you lose power, but there’s nothing that can substitute water.” (nbcnews.com) The words of this Puerto Rican woman preparing for yet another threatening hurricane make me wonder, What can a person live without?
As I scroll through the live updates and headlines of this spiraling violent hurricane season, I notice reporters describing the storms as brutal conquerors, or unmerciful slave owners – saying the storm is “ravaging” through the island… “lashing” the coast… “battering” the town. As I keep refreshing my web browser to watch the path of Maria on radar, my heart is crying for those millions of people whom I know are losing their homes, their animals, their schools, their workplaces, their livelihoods and everything that they know. People are living in masses in shelters, sleeping on cots or the floor, with limited to no communication with the outside world.
Right now I am trying to imagine what life will look like after these storms. I’m sure many people will relocate due to lack of aid and be forced to move to some mainland as environmental refugees. For those who stay loyal to their homeland, the next steps are very literally starting from ground zero. They will spend the coming decades building new homes and infrastructure, planting crop, and relying heavily on foreign aid, or (hopefully) internal aid in the case of the U.S. and U.K. territories. But right now, at the present time, there is so much unknown. It seems that the only possessions these people have left is their heartbeat and their loved ones.
So what does a person need to live? And what can we live without? Abraham Maslow was a psychologist known for his study of the Hierarchy of Needs of human beings. His research found that the first thing people need is the physiological items like food, water, air, and sleep. After that, they require safety- like actual shelter and also employment to continue providing the basic things. When these two are accomplished, then people can begin to worry about pursuing things like romance, self-esteem, and achieving self-actualization. Maslow argues that each layer must be achieved before the next.
For hurricane-stricken populations, the very first tier of needs is still uncertain. But in a way, I think some of the top tier items still persist. The bold characteristics of leadership, self-sacrifice, and community are shining in this time of perceived darkness. People are banding together and taking care of each other who would otherwise not interact. And there is a level playing field here. Even the richest cannot afford electricity when the power lines are destroyed.
So after all the material possessions and power struggles between peoples are stripped away, only real humanity is left. This hurricane season continues and islands in the Caribbean are bracing themselves for what may come. Personal valuables, resources, and fond memories of home are all lost now and only these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.