Irma’s Aftermath

Hurricane Irma tore into St. John about 18 months ago. The island was in the wall of the eye of the storm for more than two hours. Survivors describe it as a truly harrowing experience.

Signs of the devastation wrought by the storm are still found all over the island — as is seen in the remains of the restaurant located next door to our lodging. The damage followed a distinct pattern. First the storm lifted the roofs off structures and blew out their windows, then it rained flying debris that knocked down walls, then the exposed innards of homes and buildings were exposed to drenching rain — which was compounded when another storm blew through the region about a week later and dumped still more rain.

But St. John has bounced back. Much of the damage has been fixed already, and repair work is underway elsewhere. In some cases, insurance snags have delayed the rebuilding efforts. Many of the residents who survived the storm and remained on the island will tell you it was a kind of rite of passage. Some people left, but those who stayed rolled up their sleeves, worked together to clear debris and help their neighbors, and jointly experienced the aftermath period when only generator power was available and you couldn’t buy a drink with ice. New and lasting friendships were formed, and you’ll hear people saying that the island is stronger than ever because of that.

We came to St. John for some sunshine and heat to break up the Midwestern winter, and we definitely got that — but we also got a lesson in the resilience of the human spirit.

The Gravitational Waves Of Uncle Albert

Somewhere out in the far reaches of space, 1.3 billion light years from Earth, two incredibly dense black holes spin around each other, racing at incredible speeds and moving ever closer to their inevitable collision.  Finally, their event horizons merge, and they become one.

At the moment of contact, the black holes lose mass and emit gravitational waves — bursts of pure energy so powerful that they warp space time.  It sounds like a fantastic, far-fetched scenario, but it’s not.  This week, scientists announced that they were able to detect, and record, the gravitational waves here on Earth, on special antennae.  You can listen to the chirp-like sound of the gravitational waves through a link here.

albert-einsteinThe confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves in this scenario is yet another confirmation of the theories of relativity of Albert Einstein.  It’s extraordinary to think that one man, through use of thought experiments and applied mathematics, could have been such a profound scientific visionary and been able to predict so much — predictions that have been confirmed, time and time again, by others who followed in his path.  We tend to think of Einstein as a kind of rumpled, wild-haired, avuncular figure, but inside lurked a mind and spirit so unique and far-sighted and brilliant that he was able to develop theories that explain some of the most amazing elements of our universe.

Gravitational waves, the bending and stretching of space time, the changes in relative time as a traveler approached the speed of light — all of these, and more, were born in the fertile brain of Uncle Albert.  This week we learned, yet again, that the story of Albert Einstein is one of the great stories in the history of the human species, and it reaffirms that one person, through hard work and brilliant insight, can make all the difference.