Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Thousand Points of Light

I was in a hurry to get to school on Wednesday morning. It had rained very hard the night before, and we'd been under a tornado alert. The roads were covered with debris, and there seemed to be traffic cones everywhere on the way out of my neighborhood. Streetlights were out, so my early morning departure was pretty dark. I kept thinking how odd it was that there were so many school buses pulled over to the side of the road. My quick evaluation of the problem was that they were probably early for their route and waiting until time to start picking up students.

How wrong I was.

Twelve inches of rain had fallen in my neighborhood in the past 10 hours, and the street behind mine had become a raging river during the night. One man was quoted in the news as having a kayak in his living room in case he had to evacuate. When the evacuation came, in the wee hours of the morning, the flood rushing down the road was not kayak-friendly. The fire department, police and national guard worked for hours to get everyone to safety. The middle school at the end of my street was closed due to flooding. And I slept through the entire thing.

How could I have driven out of my darkened neighborhood on the way to work and missed all that?

The city showed up immediately with dumpsters that were filled, emptied and refilled several times a day. These people lost everything in their homes. The morning after looked deceptively peaceful.
I cannot imagine just putting all my belongs on the front lawn to be hauled away.
Or to be scooped up by front loaders to be dumped and taken away.

On Saturday morning, the clean up continued. This time I was not going to miss it.
My backyard backs up to these homes, but I had no damage at all. I went to the neighborhood elementary school, where a community wide effort had come together to help these people get their homes emptied. Churches set up tents with food and water. Organizations showed up with practical items from industrial strength trash bags to heavy duty gloves for clean up. Hundreds and hundreds of families showed up to clean yards and pull water logged carpet and insulation.

My church (which is on this same street, but was not damaged) supplies shirts to our members that say "See the Need, Meet the Need". These t-shirts are worn for community projects. Our pastor is continually telling us that we should be "Jesus in skin" when our neighbors need help. I know that friends wearing those shirts were at my home many times during D's long battle with cancer, helping us with everything from yard work to making our home handicap accessible when D lost his leg to the disease.

This was the first time I'd worn the yellow shirt for a project, and I know that I received so much more than I gave. I was amazed to see complete strangers going door to door to find out if the homeowners had flood insurance, and when finding out the answer was "no", handing over a big check to help the family out.

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I don't care what anyone says: the spirit of unity in our communities is still alive and well. I know: I saw it in my own backyard.

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