Writer’s note: This post is a stream of consciousness. It’s a window into life before, during and what we’re left with after Harvey charged through, and then parked his butt over the Texas gulf coast.
The past week, or week-and-a-half (what day is it?) has been surreal, to say the least. And before I get into the details, let me first say that my family was extremely lucky to have weathered the storm without injury or damage to our collective homes. When I say lucky, I mean LUCKY. Go one mile, one block or even one house in any direction and you will find families that were not spared.
Try to reason with Mother Nature. Go ahead, try.
Nature, as we’ve seen, does not see race or power or economic status. It doesn’t choose to strike specific political or religious groups. It just does what it does. Wherever that may be. You can’t reason with it, or pay it to strike a different town or neighborhood or home. If you’re in the path, you’re hit. And you’re left with a soggy, molding and rancid pile of the material things you once held so dear.
But here’s the upside. Mother Nature, for a period of time at least, leaves behind something else. Something beautiful. As if the winds and the torrential rains wash away the little uglies in our world. The perceived differences. The bitter infighting. And it leaves behind community, togetherness, the bravery of men and women risking their lives to save the very people that only a few days before were deemed the enemy.
The clarity of disaster.
I’ve been around for a few years now, and I’ve witnessed, first-hand, some pretty disastrous events. Some man-made. Some, like Harvey, created by nature. Born and raised near the Texas Gulf Coast, storms — tornados, hurricanes, flooding — are an underlying threat. Hurricane season comes around each year, without fail. The chance of a direct hit is slim, but the chance is always there. And occasionally, that possibility becomes reality.
Alicia, Allison, Katrina, Rita, Ike and now Harvey. Human names for inhumane forces. Like everyone else in this area, these storms are indelible points on the timelines of our lives. From downed trees and power lines to flattened homes and catastrophic flooding. We’ve seen it all, more than we care to admit.
In 1999, I left my home state of Texas to pursue a career in advertising in the heart of it all — New York City. It was eye-opening and exciting and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was also a time of exponential growth and unforgettable experiences. One of which started on the morning of September 11, 2001, when I hopped on the “C” train from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to my office in midtown.
Less than an hour after I arrived, all hell broke loose. We all know why. And we all know how that day forever changed our world. As one of millions living in the city, I saw more than smoldering rubble and controlled chaos. In the days and months that followed the historic attack, I witnessed the very same things we’re witnessing today.
Heroic acts. Connection. Community. Strangers helping strangers. Acts of kindness and generosity that just the day before seemed lost forever.
Disaster brings clarity. It strips away what doesn’t matter. It peels our faces from our computers or phones. It rips us from our La-Z-Boy – away from FOX News, CNN and the Housewives of blankety blank county. It gives us purpose. It reminds us that, above all, we are all humans and we are in this together.
Lines drawn, erased.
When I think about the vitriol and divisiveness that existed before the storm, it, quite frankly, leaves me feeling pretty anxious. I hated it then and I hate the idea that we might soon return to business as usual.
As taxing and stressful and overwhelming as the clean-up from Harvey is and will continue to be, it brought out the very best in us.
Just days ago, I joined my sister and nephew (Henry) to help clean-up the band director’s house at Henry’s junior high. Located in one of the hardest hit areas, the neighborhood looked like a war zone, with blocks and blocks and blocks of homes ravaged by over six feet of water.
As we walked toward his home, we passed mountains of sopping wet memories, piled high. The area was teeming with people. Volunteers that were family members, students, strangers. It was dirty work. We knocked out soaked drywall from the home across the street. A task mirrored thousands of times over throughout the city and surrounding areas. We did it willingly, alongside others doing it willingly. With gear to protect us from the mold and stench, we worked and communicated with people we’d never met before, in sweltering heat.
When we asked Henry’s teacher how he was doing, he said, “Oh my, this is a blessing. I’m a music teacher. My wife is a music teacher. We work hard and often don’t get home until after dark.” His eyes began to well up. So did ours. ” In the past few days, we’ve bonded with neighbors. Leaned on strangers. Become a community. This is a blessing. Everything else can be overcome.”
He’s right. In the midst of hell, the blessings are too numerous to count.
What now? What next?
I keep asking myself this. Where do we go from here? How do we avoid returning to magnified hate and fear. For lack of a better term, how do we capitalize on the love, the good? How do we keep it going?
I’ve always tried to focus on the good. Appreciate the differences. Assume the best. Before Harvey, this was getting harder and harder to do. Every day, we were bombarded with negativity. Constantly hammered with divisive messages. Many in our state, our country congregated with only those of like mind. We had forgotten how much we share in common.
During Harvey and the aftermath of flooding, heroes emerged. Every day folks lending a hand to people and animals in distress. They did not stop to ask about politics. They didn’t leave behind the Catholic or Atheist. They pulled fellow humans from the water, instead of pushed them behind a wall.
We remembered the 99% good, and for the time being, stopped focusing on the not so great 1%.
My pledge. Your pledge.
Today, I pledge to continue acts of kindness. Far beyond the immediate need. I pledge to turn off the TV when the negativity gets too much, either way. I pledge to love my family more, tell them more and get to know my neighbors. I pledge to focus on the 99%. I refuse to give power to the rest.
Keeping this going requires that we all continue to treat each other with respect. Disagree sometimes? Sure. Disrespect? No.
If this resonates with you in any way, please pass it on.
Add your own pledge. Ask that others add theirs. Maybe together, we can help turn the destructiveness of this storm into a turning point in our history. Isn’t it worth a shot?