Like almost everyone in the Houston and Southeast Texas area, I spent last Friday preparing for a hurricane. We bought a few cases of bottled water, prepared some cooked food, stocked up on non-perishable items, and thought through a plan for collecting water on the off-chance that we lost city plumbing services. But I didn’t actually think anything bad was going to happen.
On Saturday, we went ahead with a scheduled back-to-school party at our house but moved the time up a few hours so everyone would be sure to be home before dark before the heavy rain was supposed to start. On that sunny afternoon, it was hard to take the weathermen seriously.
I should probably mention at this point that I’m not from here. I don’t have Allison or Ike stories. I saw the Tax Day Flood and the Memorial Day Flood, but this was my first hurricane.
When the rain first began on Saturday night, only minutes after our guests left, I thought we were so clever for adjusting the time, and credited myself mostly with ensuring everyone made it home safely. I decided to pull the pretty cushions from the outdoor chairs, but left the new door mats—they would probably be fine—after all, nothing really bad was going to happen.
As I went through my normal routine, readying myself for bed, digesting conversations from the evening and working through the angst of a few careless words, I began to notice a difference in the sound of the rain. It seemed stronger somehow, if that is an adjective that you can attribute to falling water.
I decided to take a peek and see what was going on. Five-inches-an-hour rain, 24.5 trillion gallons before it was over. It felt like the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean—the same slight buckle in my knees.
We lived a long nervous night, sleeping at times not out of apathy, but helplessness. In the morning, we had not lost power or the ability to flush. We hadn’t even lost internet. But something bad had happened. Something bad was still happening.
As I stood in my kitchen scrambling eggs for my family and looking forward to a shower, I watched news coverage of people being rescued from their homes by boats, tents pitched on rooftops where people were awaiting rescue. We checked in with those we know and love. Some were okay, some were not. And it was still raining.
Nightfall seemed to bring a second wind, as Harvey hovered and we had another mostly sleepless one. Again, we survived unscathed while on the news we watched footage of endless scenes from a completely different story.
That afternoon I received a text from a friend saying Harvey was heading back out to the Gulf, that it was going to pick up more water, another 20 inches, and come back. “We have to stop it,” was my only thought.
The very height of human hubris is the belief that we can control–the excessive pride that leads one to believe nothing bad is really going to happen because someone somewhere will fix it.
The most shocking thing about Hurricane Harvey is not that it came, or the absolute devastation it left in its wake. The most shocking thing about Hurricane Harvey is that we could not do anything to stop it. We could not barricade or sandbag enough, we could not send in the navy, we couldn’t even nuke it. We just had to let it rage against us.
Blame it on the typical plot of almost every story we’ve ever read. Blame it on super hero movies. Blame it on the American Dream, but we expect a happy ending. So, in the midst of the storm we fought back with row boats and kayaks, feeble tools turned savior for many.
And before the sun had the nerve to show its face, mere humans began rebuilding. I’ve been turned away from not one, not two, but three shelters because they had too many volunteers. I’ve pitched in at food pantries where the hands helping out-numbered those in need 2 to 1. I’ve enlisted to muck out flooded homes, only to find the work already done before I could get there.
Now, one week later, I sit in a dry coffee shop in east downtown watching the most beautiful people in the world come in and out, picking up croissants and cappuccinos, ordering fresh soups and salads, smiling and laughing. I even saw the postal carrier walk through earlier with a handful of mail and just received a text that my Amazon deliveries are on the way.
There is still work to be done, and there will be work for many, many months yet to come. But the belief that we will get through it together is pervasive. This hubris, if you will, may get us knocked down, but it is also what gets up back up again.