I woke up this morning to more news from the BVI, where it seems like the whole world has more or less fallen to pieces following Hurricane Irma. The news was not good. We learned yesterday that Irma removed the roof on my in-laws’ house like a giant hand had plucked it off and flung it aside. We now know the same fate has befallen the beloved guest house where Kim and I always stayed when we visited — among our favorite places in the world. We don’t have a photo of the guest house, or what’s left of it, yet, but here’s the main house:
It’s important to understand that compared to the permanent residents of the BVI we have nothing to worry about. After all, we still have a roof over our head. It’s also important to understand that the house was under contract for sale. We had already made peace with the idea that it wasn’t going to be ours any more and had planned a now-unnecessary trip down to help organize and remove the things in it that matter to us. Given that, I really have nothing to complain about at all.
There is something so symbolic about having the roof ripped off a place that is important to you. It turns out roofs really matter. People will go to great lengths to get under them, and it’s the first or maybe the second thing we think about when we’re talking about our well being. “A decent meal and a roof over your head.” “It may not be much, but it keeps me out of the rain.” We don’t talk as much about building walls, even though they’re pretty important. Walls divide us; we use them to keep other people and things out, to separate us from them. Roofs bring us together. We “get everyone under one roof.” A house or a shelter of any kind doesn’t amount to anything at all until it has a roof on it, and then suddenly it starts to matter.
Back in the days of the Famine in Ireland, which of course was not a famine at all but a genocide against the poor, when the landlords were trying to run the tenants off their land they sent thugs to pull the roofs off the cottages. Usually they did this at night, during a cold rain (not too hard to find one of those in Ireland). The people thus deprived of the roof over their head died of exposure fairly quickly. There’s less written about the landlords actually demolishing the cottages, although I’m sure that happened as well. It’s the symbolism of the roof that really resonates with us.
So, as you’re reading news about the hurricane and about the people in the Caribbean and elsewhere whose only roof is now floating in a bay somewhere, remember the importance of roofs and what they symbolize.
If you would like to donate to the BVI relief effort, Richard Branson is getting things organized. See his post here.