how to survive a hurricane.
This past Saturday, my family and I were supposed to board a plane and fly into my hometown of Houston, Texas. The purpose? To embark on a vacation of our dreams; one we'd been waiting on for months.
Except, our dreams and plans didn't matter to Mother Nature.
As the rain began and the winds picked up, trickles turned into streams turned into rivers turned into impenetrable walls of water. Many Texans became American refugees, displaced by a merciless and beastly monster named hurricane Harvey.
New mothers loaded their babies into kayak cradles; caretakers loaded rescue trucks with grandmas and the trusty dog. One picture shows a toddler clinging to her mother as they stare at the decimated pile of siding and wood that once so beautifully orchestrated their home; another man sobs as he comes to grips with the fact that his life is now overwhelmed with nothingness - and with how much he wants to see the father he now knows is alive.
"Evacuate," some are told.
But how? How is one to leave this home that's now teeming with gremlins of water? The water that once gave life to the shrubs and begonias. The water that sprinkled the kids who ran, laughing and screaming with joy. How does one evacuate without knowing where to go - or to what they'll return?
What do we do with nightmares - not just our own - but, each other's? It's so easy, isn't it - to wake up in a cold sweat and think of anything else. It's easy to splash your face with water, look in the mirror and convince yourself it was just a dream. To brush your teeth and scroll through your newsfeed to fill you mind with anything - anything else.
For many friends and family members, this nightmare came in the form of water that wouldn't stop rising. They tried to think of something else - ascending to the second floor to hide from the threat of lost dreams and possessions. But for one family friend, a home is now nothing but roof. And my newsfeed these past few days was nothing but scrolls of desperate cries for help: posted phone numbers and addresses; places where you can donate; items needed for shelters and churches; tales of valiant and miraculous rescues.
The nightmare then begs the question: How will we survive this?
How do you survive a hurricane?
The Farmer's Almanac will tell you to monitor the storm; to secure your home; to ensure a supply of sanitary water and non-perishable goods.
But when the power is out and the roof caves in - when the pipes burst and the car is submerged, quick lists from almanacs can seem offensively heartless and empty. From a different perspective - in the way I'm watching my parents and my high school friends so bravely weathering these nightmares that turn into real life - survival looks like this:
1. Monitor the storm. Name it. Avoid the urge to ignore it or pretend that it doesn't exist. When we name our storms, we give others permission to name theirs, too. The neighbor with the kayak knows the storm is here and is searching for others who need rescuing. The parent with the chronically ill kid knows the storm is here and is searching for others who need rescuing. I told my closest friends how scared I was to raise a little black boy. If we choose not to name our storms, not only do we risk entrapment for ourselves - but we are also rendered powerless to see and rescue others. When we choose to name our storms, we know what loss needs to be waded through, slowly and waist deep. But few people I know ever choose to stop in the middle of a rushing current. They - like many Texans have so bravely done - they keep going, even when the storm is here.
2. Secure home. What is home? For some people I know and love, home was lost in gushing waves, walls buckling under pressure and gale. Others rearranged furniture and gathered documents - hoping their existence could still be proven on paper. The antiques and heirlooms were collected and stored; the medical supplies were inventoried and accounted for. Still, for some - after all this exhausting work - home was destroyed. For others, they do not yet know the fate of home. At the end of the day, this is the truth: there are your body, your soul, your people. These are home. We survive hurricanes by protecting our bodies, even when the material things splinter apart and drift away. And when the water sweeps our feet from underneath us, we float or we swim to higher ground. We cling to our people - those who brought us into this world, and those whom we brought in with our bodies or our hearts. We float across the street and rescue the family we've talked to once. We put our phones down and look at our kids in the eyes and say: "Tell me everything." You hold your wife's hand with commitment, even though the holding feels like betrayal. You sit with a friend who's lost a child and you say nothing, but it means everything. And, then, our souls. Ironically, we secure our souls by admitting we're not really in control. We did nothing to deserve the hurricane - and we ask for Love to replace the fear. We trust that Love is great enough to handle all trouble and trial, as formless as Love may seem. But this is impossible to do if we feel like we're the ones who control the waves.
3. Ensure a supply of non-perishable goods. If a house is everything to us - not just an important thing, but everything - then it will be hard for life to continue. Our family friends who lost their house - they are devastated. And . . . they are not done in. It seems impossible, even inhumane, to consider life after loss. Because in the hurricane, we see nothing else. It's overwhelming - it swallows us up. After I lost my grandmother, I did not know how I would physically do life without her - her voice, her wisdom, her instruction. But, as her body decayed, her spirit did not. She and I both believe that - because of Jesus - her life is eternally secured. So, even though the loss still hurts - and it always will - my non-perishable goods promise me that it's not the end. Do you have non-perishable goods? Or does everything perishable in your life happen to be just that - everything?
This afternoon, the sun came out in Houston. Friends posted pictures of the sun - as if it were the smallest piece of gold found under ashen rubble - and, with water remaining, hope came out with it. There are many unknowns, many people still suffering in shelters. Much heavy lifting to do and many, many weeks of recovery ahead.
But there was sun - and it was no small thing.
This is how we survive, both the hurricane Harvey victims and the homeless. The cancer survivors and the widows. The black boys and the gay girls. The Muslims and the mamas who so desperately want another baby. The underpaid and the abandoned elderly. The insurance-less and the recently divorced. The exhausted and the empty-nesters. The chronically depressed and the differently-abled.
We name our storms so we can see others suffering, too. We secure our bodies, our people, our souls by learning how to swim, refusing to remain paralyzed and motionless. We call forth humanity by reaching out to another versus running away in fear, acknowledging that we are not, ultimately, in control - but we can take care of what matters most. And then we stock up on the essentials - not the home goods, but the hope - keeping in front of us the things and the people that will not waste away, even when everything else will.
The picture above is one of a man holding two children. The man's name is Sheriff's Deputy Rick Johnson, and this rescue was made just a few miles from my parent's home. I bet all my money that Sheriff's Deputy Johnson didn't knock first to ask how their guardians voted in last November's election. He didn't turn away because of their skin color or their age, for that matter. He didn't first evaluate their school district or wonder if their parents were a guy and a girl or two guys or two girls. He just rescued them. Because they needed rescuing. And when you monitor the storm, secure your own home, and stock up on the non-perishables - you get to be like Sheriff's Deputy Rick Johnson, knocking on doors and doing whatever you can to be in close proximity to the other - to preserve what's the most precious of all:
Johnson said this to TIME magazine: "I grabbed the kids, and in order to keep the kids focused on happy thoughts given the seriousness of what was going on around us, I told them a couple of light jokes. We joked about swimming, and the water being cold."
I want our neighborhoods and counties and cities and states - I want our country - to be like Sheriff's Deputy Rick Johnson. I want us to grab each other and lift each other to safety on higher ground. I want us to keep each other focused on hope, because when you're safe, I'm safe, too. I want us to laugh again, to swim and wade through currents, protecting each other's bodies and carrying each other, even when we may not agree on matters of opinion. I want us to acknowledge that it's really cold out here in the hurricane, but that it's possible to survive . . .