Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part V. RESCUE
Nearly five hundred Kittitians stuffed themselves into Sugar’s, a local bar and pool hall, to watch the 2008 U.S. election. Among them was a small smattering of foreigners, including Katie, Spencer, and myself.
“I like it here,” Katie chirped as someone handed her an Obama pin. “Everywhere you look, it’s really lush and green. There are little monkeys. And the people are nice. I feel safe.”
I agreed. I’d come to trust her instincts.
We had voted by mail, then flown to St. Kitts. Spencer was worried that if Barack Obama lost, there would be race riots at home. And though I didn’t worry about unlikely events like that anymore—especially since I had a ham radio, a network, and experience to keep me informed and out of the danger zone—it was a good excuse for my first trip to the island as a citizen. Judging by the enthusiasm at Sugar’s, where Kittitians wore Obama shirts and sang, “Hey hey hey, good-bye,” every time McCain lost a state, people would probably be just as angry here also.
As CNN blared on a bass-heavy sound system more accustomed to soca and reggae music, I thought back to the election four years ago, when the idea of leaving the country first entered my mind. And I hoped that this time we would redeem ourselves in the eyes of the world—and of history.
As midnight neared and Obama’s electoral votes began to surge, bartenders handed out plastic glasses and filled them with complimentary champagne. Then, suddenly, a sound like that of a record slowing down filled the bar. The televisions shut off, the lights flickered out, and the room went silent.
Another blackout had struck.
Fortunately, this time, I was prepared.
I switched on a flashlight and found Spencer and Katie. “We can go watch the election back at my, um, compound. I have a generator.”
On the way home we took a detour along the Caribbean, past the open-air beach bar where I’d first made the decision to buy the apartment that would give me citizenship. We noticed it had a generator running and CNN blasting, so we decided to watch the results over rum punch on the beach. If you’re prepared and don’t panic, I’d come to realize, most of life’s emergencies are merely inconveniences.
When the forty-fourth president of the United States was announced at midnight and the crowd at the bar burst into applause, a wave of relief spread through the three of us. It felt as if we’d been holding our breath for eight years, waiting to exhale. It’s not that George Bush was a bad guy. There are no bad guys. Just people who are bad at their jobs.
In a way, I was even grateful to him. If it weren’t for his administration, I wouldn’t be in a second home on a moonlit Caribbean beach, with a completely new outlook on life and my place in it. St. Slim Jim, patron saint of dual citizens and rescue workers.
I just hoped the changing of the guard in America wasn’t too late. As the gaping hole at Ground Zero had been reminding us for the last seven years, it’s easy to tear something down. It’s difficult to resurrect it.
“There’s still hope for America after all,” a celebrating Kittitian in a bright red shirt proclaimed nearby. There was that dangerous word again: hope. I was reminded of the party in the White House on the night we safely entered this millennium, when we expected the best but weren’t prepared for the worst. This time around, not only was I prepared, but I’d learned that hope is a passive emotion. It’s the last survival skill of the powerless. In the face of the unknown, I prefer action.
That’s why, when I’m not in St. Kitts, most days you’ll find me in Los Angeles, doing search and rescue as SR14 with C.E.M.P., training with the Disaster Communications Service as ham radio operator KI6SJC, working local medical events as EMT number B1892201, running mass-casualty incident drills with CERT battalion 5—or milking goats in my backyard.
Those who run from death, like the survivalists in their bunkers and the permaculturists in the forest, also run from life. As an EMT, as a C.E.M.P. member, as a latecomer to the world of outdoor adventure, I’d discovered that the opposite is also true: those who run to death also run to life.
When you walk to the very edge of the abyss, and you lean over and peer as deep into the blackness as you possibly can, and maybe you even lower a hand into it and pull someone out who’s not supposed to be there, that’s when you feel alive.
I used to wonder if Kurt Saxon, Tom Brown, Bruce Clayton, and all the other survivalists I met ever regretted dedicating their lives to a skill set they never had to use. But now I know the answer. They use those skills every day. Because after three years of searching and learning and accumulating, I’ve learned that it isn’t actually survival these skills bring. It’s peace of mind.
I now know that I can take care of myself and my loved ones. But until the day comes when I have to do that, I’m going to be taking care of everybody else.