This morning I woke up in my own bed, freshly made with clean sheets. I got up and took a hot shower. There was plenty of water and body wash and privacy. I slipped into clean yoga clothes, made a cup of coffee in my own well-appointed kitchen and I drank it before heading out on my walk on dry streets, with my content puppy, Walter, at my side.
Every step I took was one part gratefulness and one part guilt. I have been on the verge of or in tears since the first reports came in. I don’t live in Houston. I live on the edge of devastation.
We live about 90 miles northwest of the city on a massive lake. We were terribly lucky. The lake rose to a level the likes of which we had never seen. But then the dam was opened and despite the heavy rains, the lake remained at a steady level. Even the winds were nothing to write home about. A half-filled water bottle that we had mistakenly left sitting out on the grill when my fiancé was clearing off the deck and tying down the furniture was still standing right where we left it.
We were prepared. Cars were filled with gas. Pantry stocked with water and food and necessities. Things brought in or tied down. Garage floor cleared of anything that might succumb to water. Furniture and accessories moved away from the sliding glass doors. But we aren’t in a floodplain. We’re safely situated high enough above sea level. My fiancé assured me we were in no danger. Still we prepared.
And yet we were so unprepared. How do you prepare to watch the destruction of lives and homes and families and a city that prides itself on its strength?
In many ways, this is too surreal to even wrap my head around. The stories coming out of Hurricane Harvey sound like the ones written for those ridiculous, over-the-top disaster movies. A toddler found in flood waters floating on her dead mother’s back.
A man is the sole survivor when his van was overcome by rising waters and he listens as his parents and four children scream for help but he cannot save them. The family of a terminally ill child loses their home and all of its contents including life-saving medical equipment. An entire school system loses half of its buildings. Animals left chained or caged to drown. A nursing home of residents sitting in waist-high water.
It’s not just the losses that are so hard to take. It’s also some of the responses. Joel Osteen, the minister of a 16,000-seat megachurch called Lakewood, locks the doors and then days later opens them only after extreme public shaming and only to those who are members or who are willing to “donate,” read pay. The “president” who commented first on the “turnout” which “he” received upon his arrival in Texas – not Houston – and who did not meet with even one victim of the flood.
I hate the word victim. It makes it seems like the disaster is the boss of things. I don’t love survivor either. I prefer thriver. The people of Houston are thrivers. Those who suffered damage and injury and loss and those who volunteered to help.
The volunteerism. That has been miraculous. That has been the only saving grace, both literally and figuratively. When the massive losses began to seem unbearable to not only those suffering but also those whose hearts went out to them, there were all of these people. These incredible people doing the most incredible things.
A man buys a boat just to perform rescues. The Cajun Army comes from Louisiana to save people. Shelters open. Churches open. Mosques open. A woman embroiders pillow cases so people have some tiny bit of comfort. Restaurants feed first responders. Reporters tirelessly reporting from the thick of it, even leading rescuers to those desperate to be taken to higher ground. People come from Mexico with supplies to give and hands to help.
And our beloved Jim McIngvale, aka Mattress Mack, opens the doors to his Gallery Furniture stores and tells evacuees to make themselves as at home as they can on the miles of brand new furniture.
The Godliest among us are so often not those who loudly proclaim themselves to be “men of God.”
It’s hope in the face of hopelessness. It’s the brightness of humanity. No one is gay or straight. No one is black or brown or white or yellow or red. No one is a man or a woman. No one is young or old. No one is Jewish or Christian or Muslim. No one is rich or poor. No one is a citizen or not a citizen. There are no papers. There are no distinctions. There are no delineations. There are those who need help and those who are helping.
In the face of disaster, we see the true colors of humanity as a whole and of people as individuals. We find joy in knowing that most of us dwell in love.
I have been reminded every moment of how lucky I am every day and certainly this week. I am reminded of how grateful I must always remember to be. I am reminded that compassion fatigue is real. That there is no shame in being overwhelmed and sad. That it doesn’t have to be your home or your family to feel sorrow. I am reminded that self-care is mandatory when there are so many people who need help from those of us not directly affected.
There is no shame in feeling. There is only shame in ignoring.
So, I take a break from the coverage and I seek ways I can make a direct impact no matter how small. And I remember that love is love is love is love. And I remember that we are more capable and wanting of good than of evil. And I remember that nothing is promised. Our health and safety and well-being is not promised. It is precious. And I remember that for but the grace of God go I.
For those of you feeling helpless and lost, whether Harvey’s toll on you was direct or indirect, breathe, eat, drink, sleep, ask for help, accept assistance, take care of yourself, take care of others, forgive yourself for whatever feelings you are having. And sally forth. That is what we are here to do. Care for one another and sally forth.
We are one. This too will pass. And we will rise.
Houston will rise.
Note: If you’re looking for a simple, direct way to help, tampons, pads, wipes, and diapers (for babies and adults) are very much needed for evacuees. I have created a Target wish list where you can buy product or gift cards. Everything purchased will be distributed to individuals, shelters, and agencies as needed.
Just click here to donate – tgt.gifts/WeWillThrive
Originally appeared in SWAAY.