Hilton Head Island Update

November in America is perpetually the month for thanks. We Hilton Head Islanders arrived at this particular month, in this defining year, at this historically significant time, having just borne the brunt of Hurricane Matthew more forcefully than any other South Carolina community. Some expressions of thanksgiving come easily, and you’ve surely both heard and expressed them—to Steve Riley, our town manager, to Tom Dunn, our emergency preparedness official and to our entire town staff, to the distinctive and distinguished Fire Rescue and to Beaufort County’s fine sheriff’s office, to the National Guard and to our debris removal contractor Crowder Gulf, to our water, sewer and electric utility providers, to local, state and federal officials and agencies and their staffs, to our churches, community organizations and non-profits, to our island businesses and citizens and our neighbors in Bluffton and beyond! Most assuredly, I would use up my word quota before exhausting the list of those who have come to our collective aid. But other thanks are decidedly more difficult to describe in words alone. For instance, are we or will we ever be able to give thanks for the storm itself? If the answer is to be affirmative, then just how? And when? Exactly what were the small surviving group of Mayflower passengers, the Pilgrims, thankful for when, in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, together with the native Wampanoag tribe, they first celebrated a feast of thanks here in our country? Or why did Abraham Lincoln, on October 3, 1863, during the unequalled time of national strife, formally establish this annual holiday? We know from source documents that all were counting the blessings they were experiencing, even in the midst of manifold and monumental struggles. But may I also be so bold as to suggest to you that actually being capable of giving thanks, and to know that another generation may be raised up to dwell and prosper in this great land we call America the Beautiful, were both the essence and the genesis of their gratitude? In other words, perhaps they were quite thankful that they were alive to be thankful.

Please travel with me through this thankful month and the ones to come and spot reasons for gratitude, signs of hope and healing, and opportunities to view the rest of this year—the rest of our lives—from a posture of thanksgiving and a prism of joy.

In November, we will marvel at the near supernatural efforts to be “on with the show” and “off to the races!” (And this is just the follow-up to performances by the Arts Center, Lean Ensemble, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, John Cranford and other artists and a myriad of festivals, fundraisers and the like, which remarkably occurred during the final weeks of October!) Festivals and galas from Motoring to Oyster to Fall to Latin Music to the Main Street Youth Theatre’s twentieth anniversary will triumphantly occur. Our own Veterans Day Memorial Service at the magnificent Veterans Memorial Park and the Community Tree Lighting at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina will poignantly remind us of the depth and breadth of our Hilton Head Island community. Come run at the Bridge Run, ice skate at Shelter Cove Community Park or Trot with the other Turkeys at the Island Rec Association’s popular Thanksgiving morning tradition. See Santa at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina or Gregg Russell at the “stronger than a hurricane” Liberty Oak in Harbour Town, or Twelfth Night by the Hilton Head Seahawk Theatre Guild. That’s not an exhaustive list of island experiences just one short month following a hurricane with winds only 5 mph less than a Category 3—and that’s only November! We will know that our healing and growing continue when December, the traditional month of giving, brings with it the Hilton Head Prep Festival of Trees, the Island Rec Association’s Winter Wonderland, the Arts Center’s White Christmas, the Choral Society’s “I’ll be Home for Christmas” concert, and our Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops. Let’s just hope we don’t get a blizzard to go along with these seasonal events! When we wrap up 2016 with the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop at our most universally recognized landmark, the Harbour Town Lighthouse, will you be thinking about Hurricane Matthew? Could we plan at that moment to be thankful for the storm, as we remember what we’ve endured and just how it has impacted our lives and made us a better, stronger, more compassionate and connected community?

Surely we will march into 2017 marveling at how far we’ve traveled from that fearful day, October 8, 2016. We will have our own version of a Snow Day in January, welcome February, the month of love, with Daddies and Daughters dancing, marathon runners running, the Gullah giving us a Taste and Celebration, and a Seafood Festival Hilton Head style. Spring will arrive with our world-renowned International Piano Competition, our ever-growing Wine and Food Festival, Music Man at the Main Street Youth Theatre and our lucky St. Patrick’s Day parade down Pope Avenue. Being as we are replete with conviviality, I could go on and on and on and still I would be missing as many community happenings as I’ve listed.

What about 2017’s RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at the beautiful Harbour Town Golf Links? As the world repeatedly arrives here for so many signature events, will they know or remember that ours was the little island circled with the marker on the Weather Channel late one Friday night? That in the wee hours of that Saturday morning, Hilton Head took the United States’ first direct landfall hit of Hurricane Matthew? Or shall we remind them so that we may recount why we are now thankful for the storm, knowing each of those who hear our storm stories will surely face “storms” of their own someday? I hope the world would look to our fine One Island, One Community for a picture of weathering well and giving thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving to you. In the true Hilton Head Island spirit of both thanks and giving, let’s not overlook the many citizens in our community who still need our help to recover. Please consider a generous Thanksgiving donation to the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry’s Disaster Relief Fund. I am perpetually thankful for you.

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