It’s been a few weeks now since Hurricane Harvey decided to camp out over Southeast Texas. My wife and I were spared any ill effects, but many others were not so lucky. My brother and his family still cannot return to their home; it’s uninhabitable, and likely to remain so for some weeks. A co-worker of mine lost everything in her family’s apartment, which has since been condemned.
I’ve lived in Houston all my life. I was in my early twenties when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and I remember well all the damage and loss of life that ensued. When Rita hit Houston soon after, Katrina was fresh on our minds, so the amount of evacuees—or, I should say, those who identified as evacuees even as they were motionless for countless hours—was unreal.
With Harvey, we had no real idea what to expect. Sure, the media alerted us of the imminent landfall, but how to interpret? We know the media always has a spin, and they don’t withhold it for cyclonic weather.
Harvey was projected to scale up to a Category 1 hurricane and then stall for a few days as a tropical storm/depression. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? A few of us even laughed at some internet memes at work, burning off nervous energy as the storm bore down on us.
After all, Rita was only bad because of the insane traffic, and Tropical Storm Bill was purported to be terrible, but it ended up being a joke.
During Harvey—at least the first day or two—I mainly worried about losing power. We have a decent emergency stock of supplies, and while electricity isn’t necessary for survival, it’s sure nice to have in August. After Hurricane Ike, folks around us went for days or weeks without it—survivable, but not an experience I was looking forward to.
But Harvey was different. My community was high and dry, but all around us the water rose so that we couldn’t travel more than a few miles in any direction. I’ve known people who’ve had their house flood, but I’ve never been through it myself. This was my first hurricane as a homeowner, and I began to face that grim prospect as it rained.
And rained. And rained.
You may‘ve seen those Facebook avatar filters that overlay your profile pic with a rainbow (in support of the Noahic covenant). While that joke once seemed funny, I had a moment of “Now God, you promised...”
But the rain finally did stop. There’s been much sorrow, but also much joy in neighbor helping neighbor—as we do down here, by the grace of God.
When the rain ceased, my street drained very quickly. Within a few days I was able to go back to work, and it would have been very easy to simply go back to my normal life.
However, two things have stuck with me.
One, as much as we have sought to exert dominion over the earth, it is terrifying and humbling to face the reality that we are not in control. Even the president’s nuclear football is of no help in the face of hurricane-force winds, or even against simple rain that will—not—stop.
But secondly, and more personally, I felt a call to go out and help others as soon as I got an opportunity—a call where none should be, for I am a lazy man.
That’s difficult to cop to, but it’s true. I enjoy sleeping late (as anyone who knows me will attest), I dread mowing the lawn almost as much at 35 as I did at 15, and I’d much rather stay at home all weekend and relax than do almost anything else.
At worst this is Sloth—one of the Bonus Sins if you’re Catholic (I’m not), and at best it’s a personality flaw that can cause friction with my wife and other loved ones. It does, however, allow some perspective in this case.
During the storm I became quite worried that my near-Harvey experience was about to become flood waters inside my home, but once the water receded I wanted to do nothing more than breathe a sigh of relief, watch Netflix, and maybe get through the night without worrying about tornadoes (sidebar: hurricanes spawning tornadoes just seems unfair, doesn’t it?).
But I didn’t do that. Instead, I went out and helped distribute clothes and water. I tore out sheetrock and sopping wet carpet from other people’s homes, most of them total strangers. Not fun stuff, but stuff that needed done.
I don’t say this for self-aggrandizement. In the scheme of things, I did fairly little. I didn’t risk life or limb...but it’s not about that.
To me, the only positive thing to come out of Harvey was this: Though I am far from the perfect Christian, husband, son, or brother, there is a work done in me that is not of me. I love and salute the troops, first responders, and what have you—but that ain’t me.
I’ve struggled with faith in my lifetime, but I’ve come to know that all good things within me come from God. Left to my own devices, I’d have counted my blessings, opened a beer, and turned on the tube. And part of me still wanted to.
But part of me burned to help my fellow man, and it’s not too often that I notice such a perfect opportunity teed up for me. And to that I say, that’s God’s work. Praise Him.