For those of us who have spent the last week in southeast Texas, Hurricane Harvey’s arrival and departure has been a period of fear, sadness, and a frustrated helplessness. Even those of us who didn’t lose everything in this unprecedented storm have been emotionally trampled by watching pain and loss in real-time and from up close.
I’ve alternated between despair and hope, between wondering what it all means and what a person as small as I can do. I’ve wondered what this will mean for the people of Houston and Beaumont, and what it will mean for me personally as a changed person.
And I’ve also wondered what good could be found in such pain, and what such dark days can teach us.
How Much Beauty Can Be Found in Compassion
I’ve cried more in the past week than I have in the entire past year. One of the things that has brought me to my knees has been watching the compassion and willingness of others to step up and help out:
- The Cajun Navy loaded up their boats and headed west to help others in need
- Mattress Mack opened the doors (and sleeper sofas) of Gallery Furniture to house hundreds displaced
- Volunteers have repeatedly lined up to help out
Seeing the compassion other people have extended towards those in need has been a truly beautiful and touching experience. It has reminded me that I, too, must have compassion and offer a hand to those around me in whatever way I can.
How We Are All Interdependent
I’ve written before about my own struggles with isolation and loneliness, and the last week has been especially trying in this regard for me. I’ll be honest: as an extrovert who has loneliness and brooding issues, being trapped in a third-floor condo by myself for three days staring at a steady news-stream of suffering was a recipe for personal crisis and depression. In addition to that nucleus of dysfunction, the guilt about being sad about my own small problems when others are going though hell not ten miles away has been the perfect emotional storm (forgive the pun). I have spent a lot of time hiding in bed.
But! I have also spent a lot of time reaching out to check on those I care about, and researching how I can help, and signing up to volunteer in my community. I have spent a lot of time working through my own issues, including what it means to be selfishly focused on myself in a time of catastrophe. I have cancelled vacations I had planned for later in the year so I can spend that time off work and money helping others once the waters recede and the real clean-up begins.
Ultimately, disasters like Harvey can break us or bring us closer together. I’m choosing to focus on my own newly-rediscovered awareness of humanity’s interdependent co-arising. I’m choosing to embrace my own loneliness and sadness as symptoms of my greater community’s suffering. I’m seeing it as evidence that I am part of something bigger–not that I’m ultimately alone in this world, but that I’m ultimately part of the greater interdependent universe. My own sadness and pain is a sign not (only) of personal suffering, but of communal suffering.
We’re all in this together, even when it feels like we aren’t.
How to Have Hope in Times of Darkness
It feels pathetically and almost inappropriately easy to say this as someone who has not lost her loved one or home to flooding, but it is only times of darkness that can show us how to have hope in times of darkness. There can be no gratitude for happiness without the experience of sadness.
And so I leave you with my favorite speech from a movie, the one that reminds me what we’re fighting for: