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 by Manuel Batlle
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Time travel and Hurricane Maria
       As the door opened, a cool drift swept in on this September evening. I looked up, and in walked a middle-aged woman to the local Starbucks Cafe. She was unkemptly dressed, bags under her eyes, and carried a backpack with scrape marks of different colors according to the terrain where the bag had been set. I had seen this woman many times before around the same time, slip in, with her worn backpack laying it on the floor as she pulled out a multitude portable batteries and preceded to charge them all. While waiting for these to charge, she would watch videos on her smartphone disconnecting from her present reality, vicariously living the pleasant plot being played out while getting a temporary emotional charge. As I moved my eyes back to my computer screen, I wondered ignorantly, why so many batteries?
       I am going to site a previous article I wrote where the concept of space/time was described. “First let’s think of the whole concept time and space being depicted as a film reel where there are many frames put in sequence. Each frame represents a still picture. The still picture represents time or the now. If we were a dot represented on this frame, it would show our location in space within Space/time. Moving the reel, like in a film, would seem to the observer as a continuum of Space and time.”
       Black holes are very similar to hurricanes but their existence is in space not earth. Their force is so strong that even light cannot escape. The black holes form a funnel in space that makes time and space swirl on the film reel we previously spoke of. This hollow indentation in space/time theoretically makes it possible for time travel since many frames of time are captured within the hollow indentation called a black hole.
Between September 19-20 hurricane Maria plowed through the Island of Puerto Rico. In the dark early morning the winds and rain could be heard shearing through the branches of the surrounding trees. As I looked out of my apartment, I could see the horizontal torrential rain pulsate continually taking all that was loose and turning it into a projectile up in the air.
       Needless to say, the power went out and eventually so did the water. Once the storm had passed, all I could hear was the calm. I stepped out to try to quantify the damage in the surrounding areas. Many trees, to not have to say all trees, had fallen across the surrounding streets. As I looked upon the destruction I wondered if the interior a black hole with its great forces had a cleaner effect on matter thinking maybe things were broken down to the molecular level and not in chunks like I was witnessing. The rain was more a mist in the air floating, drifting to and fro almost forced to stay midair by the saturated soil. The first couple days I took out my bucket and caught rainwater to bathe.
The face of the local populous was of somber disorientation. No ATM machine worked, no cellphone had signal, many pharmacies were closed, and no store was open for the first couple days and even weeks. Of the 3 basic physiologic needs (Air, water and food) two, food and water had abruptly become scarce. I will never forget a family of 5 walking across the street in a single file composed of father, mother and 3 kids. It was quiet apparent there was a relationship between the worried countenance of the father and a cooler that the last child pulled bouncing and sounding empty along the way.
       “On call residents please report to the emergency room urgently,” said the page over the intercom. We made our way down the dark humid halls of the hospital, which had lost power since the hurricane 4 days prior. Our hospital was running on a generator that only powered essential areas of the hospital. Once the senior resident physician, Marcelo, spoke with the leading emergency room physician it was clear what the urgency was. A young man in his 20’s had a bakery oven explode in his face and burnt about 45 percent of his body.
I was chosen to go in the ambulance and transport the young man to San Juan where a better manned and equipped hospital could offer better care for such emergency. The view out the window as we sped from Ponce to San Juan was grim as roads were full of debris and houses stripped naked. No tree was left untouched, leaving all bald, looking like a frayed electric wire poking out of the ground.
       On day #2 as I walked down the humid dark halls on my way to the emergency room, I came upon a woman and politely asked her “Is everything ok?” She turned almost in rage and said, “No, things are not ok,” and for the next 7 minutes went upon describing in great detail the obstacles she had to overcome to bring her brother, a prominent local physician to the ER. She finished the conversation with, “So doctor, no, nothing is OK!”
       Today is day 38 post hurricane Maria. Did it only bring destruction? Many homes have been destroyed, family members health has succumbed due to the lack of modern resources. It is needless to say it has had no respect of persons. The hurricane has permitted all residents of the island of Puerto Rico to travel to the past by either reliving or experiencing for the first time old ways of survival and chores.
       Due to the lack of water, food and electricity people have been forced to be creative. Candle light dinners, hand washed clothes and PVC pipe antennas are the new fad. Bottled water is sought out more than the last iPhone. Warm evenings have many outside to keep cool while more neighbors are developing a genuine sense of community. I have asked my native Puerto Rican friend Edwin what has he noticed more among people and he says, “Solidarity” but I also see compassion where people are not withholding good from those it is due, when it is in their power to do it.
       I still have not had electrical power return. As I walk into my hospital and lay down my backpack, I notice a scuffmark. “Oh, yeah," I say to myself remembering it was from a hiking trip in the mountains of northern California. But I notice new dirt marks but these are from my daily visits to the hospital. As I pull out my myriad of rechargeable batteries and insert the plugs into the outlets, I have a brief hint of deja-vu or did I?
       Internet connection had returned after week 2 of the hurricane so I open my laptop and browse through a funny video a coworker has just sent me. As I chuckle, I stop and remember, connecting the similitude of my actions today to that of the mystery woman seen a year prior almost to the day.
       I realize we are all humans that have our own hurricanes that bring challenges we must overcome. My Brother Frank always told me keep looking up. As I raise my head and walk toward the window on the 3rd floor, I see so much beauty around as green leaves are filling up the trees of Puerto Rico. Nobody likes the growing pains but the virtues seen being manifested are the green leaves growing in each one of us as we all take a deeper breath of new life.
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