For the past week, I’ve found myself constantly checking the latest reports on the unbelievable condo catastrophe in Surfside, Florida. It’s not that I’m attracted to disasters or macabre events, but rather that Surfside is a place I know well and to which I feel connected.
Familiar and special places leave strong emotional ties. When things happen in far-off places with which we have no connection, they typically make little impact. We may feel sorry for the people hurt by whatever disaster occurs, but these events rarely affect us personally.
I have driven by the Surfside, Florida, condo that collapsed hundreds of times. I remember when it was built, as that was about a decade after my parents moved to a Florida community a short drive away. At that time, colorful and traditional two- and three-story apartments and motels lined that stretch of the beach. The destroyed condo was one of the first waves of upscale high-rise buildings in that area.
In March of 2020, just before COVID-19 closed the world, Maury and I stayed at a motel a few blocks away from the collapsed condo to visit family and friends. For memory’s sake, I took a photo of the last small old-fashioned motel still standing nearby. We also watched as tons of sand from near Lake Okeechobee, over a hundred miles away, were trucked in to replace that area’s eroded beach sand.
Huntingtonians and Marshall University supporters, wherever they are, understand emotional ties to a place. The 1970 Marshall plane crash made us all “We are Marshall” and permanently connected all students, graduates and Huntingtonians to the people who perished in that disaster. Yet, when talking with those who have never been here or are unfamiliar with Marshall, they express little, if any, memory or connection to our tragedy.
Sometimes our feelings of connection can be with faraway places. For me, one such place is Hong Kong. For most of my life, I was fascinated by a part of China that Britain won in two opium wars. It seems that in the 1800s, English folks fell in love with Chinese tea, which was expensive, so the British, who then controlled India, balanced this cost by exporting opium from India to the Chinese who became addicted to it. It appears that there are some similarities between 19th century China and 21st century West Virginia as powerful entities profited by pushing drugs on local folks. After winning two wars over opium, Britain set up Hong Kong as a British colony; it thrived.
I desperately wanted to visit Hong Kong before Britain’s 99-year lease expired in 1997, and I had that chance in 1996. I fell in love with Hong Kong, where industry, openness, excitement and East-West fusion prospered. Now, I sadly watch as communist China engulfs free-thinking Hong Kong.
There are times when regardless of our familiarity with a place, an immense tragedy, such as 9/11, affects everyone. Yet, most us find that as we live in, visit or develop relationships with certain places, they will forever leave us with personal memories and strong emotional ties.