A Million Words Are Not Enough
The inside of me is a journalist. The outside of me is a curious human being, just like everybody else. The difference is, I was trained to bring the outside of me to the inside of me, and put it into words. That’s a big task right now. August 26, 2017, as I watch Houston being devastated by a flood that has not happened in this size in recorded history.
This event is happening as I write, and as much as I want to jump out and help, writing is the only safe thing to do right now. The scale of this is almost beyond words, because it is beyond belief. This has happened before, and it will happen again, that’s the only way to get a grip on this right now. But this circumstance right now reminds me of what my parents and grandparents must have felt in World War II, knowing a catastrophic event is in progress, and having to follow along with it, not knowing what comes next. This will have a conclusion, all things do, but what makes this a historic event is what was inside it, and where it went.
I’m watching pictures of normally calm and controlled people in the media, in government, and down the street filled with shock at what they do know, and dread for what they don’t know yet. These events have two parts: the happening of it, and its aftermath. People waiting in line for water and Gatorade had no joy on their faces, and there was an electricity of dread in the air as so many thoughts of what to do, what will happen, read like a stock ticker in front of them. I had people asking for my cart even before I get to the car with my supplies. I could tell there was a need to be patient and polite, mixed with an urge to hurry, hurry, bad things are coming, gotta move it.
I lived through Tropical Storm Allison in June, 2001, a year with so much catastrophe in many ways. Then, we measured the suffering in terms of where you were, how much damage you suffered, and who got lucky. The common theme was, “I didn’t know it would be this bad.” Places that never flooded, ever, were a lake. Now, that’s going to seem like a Model T next to what is happening right now, and it’s not over.
The historian in me remembers talking to seniors who didn’t have what we have today, and always say, “We didn’t know any better at the time.” If you never had television, you don’t know it’s not there.
Events tonight are like that. We never thought anything would be like Allison, and surely nothing could be bigger than Allison, but here it is, twice as catastrophic, and re-writing the limits of human endurance only halfway through its mission through Texas.
So much is going to be written and said about this after all the houses have been repaired, and the claims paid. But right now, we are all in the tunnel looking for that light at the end of it. What could people in London in 1942 have been thinking as they ran from the bombs, not knowing when or where it will end?
It’s ironic, really, something that is causing so much misery and destruction, and changed so many lives, and there is no recourse to get back at it, this can’t be arrested and put in prison for what it did. Basically, the bully got away with it. But what did it really accomplish? It brought out the good in people on a scale we will always remember, a “Can Do” spirit that was always inside us, ready to come forward when it matters. That’s how the amazing events that shaped us then became the history we study today. That’s why the famous photographer Paul Gittings gathered us together in 1976, and said, “the reason we are doing this is to leave a trail.” That’s how the Astrodome got built, and it influenced a generation.
In 30 years, or 50 years, someone not even born yet will see what was done here tonight, and tomorrow night, and time after that, and they will say, in a quiet way, “These people did that… I can do this.”
If you would like to help those affected by Harvey, please consider making a donation to Unity of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund.