In the grip of Hurricane Harvey, humanity reveals itself
I’m one of the very blessed ones.
My wife and I are currently sitting through the impact of Hurricane Harvey, here in our third-floor apartment in Pearland, Texas. Houston is practically walking distance from our front door, as are the homes of our family and friends, in cities such as Sugar Land and Angleton and Sweeny and Rosharon. All of these places may as well be a thousand miles away. The rise of flood waters prevents us from even getting out of our parking lot, much less getting to any of our family and friends.
So far, we’ve watched the impact of this flooding through windows. The windows of our home look out into the parking lot of a hotel that is filled to capacity. Some of the cars in that lot are underwater. And across from that lot is a lake and a bayou that are both rising, about to crest and flow out of their banks, adding to the problem of standing water everywhere.
We’re also watching through the windows of our television, and our laptops, and our phones. We’re among the blessed, with power still flowing. We can power these devices that let us watch what’s happening all around us, even if we can’t get out to help, or to escape.
Food. That’s one of the things on my mind.
Not in the usual way—I’m a hearty eater, for sure. I will decimate some chicken wings, given any opportunity. But right now, we have enough food to get us through a few more days, at least—though we may be sick of canned soup by the time it’s all done. The real worry, though, is food for everyone else.
At this exact moment, there are 9,000+ people crammed into the George R. Brown Convention Center, on the edge of Downtown Houston. That’s just one of hundreds of locations where people are arriving soaking wet, cold, afraid, hungry. They need clothes, and towels, and toiletries. And they need food.
So first, if you can, please help. Don’t worry about what you have in your pantry or cupboards—donate what you can. But what will really help, right this minute, is money. You can donate money right from where you’re sitting, and for every dollar, you generate three meals:
That will help. Thank you.
You can contact the Red Cross and other organizations to provide more. You can also reach out to see if you can help in other ways. If you have boats, or trucks that can clear high water, or helicopters, or anything else that can help—we need you.
What has struck me, as I’ve watched through my windows, is how human everyone is being. It seems like moments ago we were bickering about something. Trump, maybe. The rights of individuals, the freedom to speak or assemble or protest. I remember we were doing that. Racism, bigotry, hatred, fear—I remember, that felt really important, a moment ago. I thought, for just a minute there, that I was seeing real humanity, and it turned my stomach at times.
But I was wrong.
Someone posted on Facebook:
Could you truly love your neighbor (everyone on Earth, government officials, rich ministers, warmongers) as yourself?
That’s a teasing and perplexing question, because at it’s heart is a pretty fundamental nuance of humanity—our ability to choose to love.
You can, if you realize what love actually is. It’s a choice you make, not an emotion. We choose things that are counterintuitive all the time. Love doesn’t mean you have to like someone, or approve of them, or even support the decisions and choices they make. Love means you’re there, ready and willing to help them despite your own beliefs or prejudices. Because humans are humans. Being human comes with flaws and imperfections and ass-hattery. Love means choosing to look beyond all that. Love is an “even though.”
Am I right? I think so. Watching through my windows, seeing the stories of humanity risking everything, forgetting the bickering and disagreements and disputes, just to make sure their neighbor is ok, seems to confirm my belief.
We can be horrible to each other. But we can choose, instead, to love each other. Even though.
I’m a writer. I tell stories for a living. Sometimes those come in the form of my fiction (blatant bit of self promotion time, visit KevinTumlinson.com/books). Sometimes my stories are told through interviews on my podcast (Wordslinger Podcast). Sometimes I tell stories in the form of marketing and promotion, particularly for Draft2Digital. These are all important stories. These all matter. They put food on my table, and a roof over my head. But more importantly, and most amazingly, they do something I hadn’t expected, when I first started: Stories help me connect to other humans, in a profound and personal way.
I’m watching stories unfold, as I look through my windows, that are affecting who I actually am, as a human being. I’m seeing, in the plight of those who have lost their homes, or even lost their lives, a hint of something bigger than I normally dare to look at closely. I’m in awe of it.
I’m a Christian. I believe God has a plan to prosper us, and not to harm us. It’s not a popular idea with just anyone—the notion that even a tragedy can have some benefit to humanity, to the soul of the person touched, to the lives of those that person encounters. I won’t spout platitudes, because I don’t want to spark debate. I’m not willing to debate.
But I do want to say that, despite any opinions or beliefs to the contrary, I am definitely seeing God at work in the hearts and minds and actions of the people in my community. The kindness and love and willingness to sacrifice self in the service of others—that’s all God ever really intended for us to learn, from all those scriptures and teachings and stories. Those are the principles God planted in us, to make us truly human. I believe. I also believe that true and real human decency, regardless of how you get to it, is the point of being human.
I’m seeing so much of that humanity at work. It impresses me. It tells me a story of hope and triumph—a story I had started to doubt still existed, with toxic politics and skewed ideologies and the threat of an insane dictator flinging missiles over Japan. But spotted it again. There it is, waist-deep in rain water, helping people into boats, giving them food and water and shelter and dry clothes. Hello, humanity.
Hurricane Harvey brought the rain. There’s no question. It did it’s damage with an initial tantrum, running through Mexico, getting some new life in the Gulf of Mexico, and tearing apart Corpus Christi and everything near it. Then it decided to stick around, an uninvited party guest that doesn’t take the hint, and instead of leaving decides to put on a full, buck-naked rendition of In a Gadda Davida with an near-empty bottle of whiskey in his hand and a lampshade on his head. He just keeps stumbling back into our living room, wrecking the joint, refusing to let us go to sleep and get some rest.
So there’s rain. There’s damage. There’s heartache, and homelessness, and hurt. But even if Harvey brought the rain, though, we brought something else. It’s rising, seeping into every corner of the place, filling us up. It’s our love and humanity. Those are the rising waters that matter most, right this second.
The story of us is getting pretty interesting. It can be tragic one moment, and triumphant the next, and repeat. But the funny thing, the amazing and incredible thing, is that spark I see in everyone’s eyes.
“We’re down. We’re beaten. We’ve lost it all. To hell with it, we’re in this together.”
This city—and all the area and region surrounding it—might get washed straight off the map, and we’re all going to pick right up and float our way to higher ground, if we have to. We’re going to hike up our britches, strap a pack on our backs, and reach out a hand to help the person next to us to climb into the boat, so we can get moving together.
I was born and raised in Texas. I’ve seen floods and hurricanes and disasters. I wasn’t watching all of it through a window—I’ve been chest deep in the waters, at times. And I know, for absolute certain and with no doubts, just how human the humans here can be. We’re just a small cross sampling of the whole, though. Our humanity is a fractal image of the larger soul of humanity. We were built for community, and right now, our maker’s mark is showing.
Keep watching. Help us, if you can. But keep watching. If you’ve ever wondered what a miracle looks like, keep watching.
We are the waters rising.