We Are Beautiful

maxresdefaultThe sun was out yesterday. It was a beautiful day in Houston, Texas and it’s surrounding suburbs. Our “pet” gecko Stubby returned and the next door neighbor hung his American flag again. Children were outside playing, dogs were barking, cars were moving along the streets. Complete strangers were smiling and waving and shouting greetings. I’ve never seen so much celebrating of a very ordinary day that suddenly felt so extraordinary.

I had to keep checking the calendar to know what day it was. I’ve lost track of time. Was it only a week ago that my little corner of the world was completely normal, or was that years ago in another time and place? How is it even possible that so much can happen in the space of only days? Why is everyone so discombobulated? What is causing our voices to quiver with so much emotion?  Why do I sense that every one of us who experienced the great Harvey flood of 2017 has forever changed?

There was a woman on television advising us to let our feelings out. She counseled that our tears that keep falling are a good thing, part of the process of healing. We have a city of over four million people who are suffering from PTSD. We have endured a lifetime of shock and awe in a very narrow space of time. Our minds and our bodies are reacting exactly as they were designed to do. We should not deny the hurt and the sorrow that is lurking just behind the courage and determination that is driving us to put our city back together. We each need outlets for our quiet worries. We need to embrace each other, hold hands allow the words that we are stifling to leave our lips. We must admit that we need help, even as we attempt to pull ourselves up on our own.

There is great power in reaching out to aid those who did not fare well in this disaster, but there are so many who need our help that it can feel overwhelming. It will be impossible to be in as many places as we want to be, so we must each contribute to the restoration process one step at a time, one day at a time. Even small gestures done collectively will make a great difference. We have to pace ourselves and conserve our energies for the long haul. We need to coordinate our efforts by sharing needs so that nobody will be forgotten, and realize that everyone has a role to play in the long marathon that lies ahead.

We are enthusiastic right now. The whole world is coming to our rescue. Everything seems possible in our present mood of rejoicing that the rains have stopped, but we have to remember that we humans are fickle. Long after interest in our city’s situation has waned, the work of rebuilding will remain. It will be up to us to keep the momentum going. We will need patience, grit, determination. There will be roadblocks and frustrations that will tempt us to lose our hope and rise up in anger. We need to be prepared for the long challenges that lie ahead.

I have marveled at the demonstrations of unity and friendship that I have seen over and over again. I always knew that Houston, Texas was the most remarkable city anywhere, but I guess I really didn’t understand just how deep its compassion and nobility actually is. I have been astounded over and over again by the spirit of this place. Where else is there a furniture store owner who opens his business to those seeking shelter from the storm? In which other place would a hometown sports hero challenge the world to send donations to bring immediate aid to his fans? Is there another town in which the local grocer would send food trucks into the most devastated areas? How do friends and family manage to wade through standing water to help those that they love pull saturated carpet and debris from water logged homes? What is it about Houston that is impressing the entire world?

I awoke this morning to find posts on Facebook that made me smile. Friends who live in Katy braved the waters surrounding their home yesterday to get a first look at what kind of damage had been done to their house. Before the sun had set an army of friends had come to help them to do the preliminary work needed to bring their house back to a habitable state. They filled the curb with carpet and sheetrock and celebrated their accomplishment with a photograph of their smiling crew. Such scenes were repeated all across the soggy landscape, and in every single case there were acquaintences and strangers alike helping in both big and little ways.

There are four million stories unfolding in Houston, each of them important and meaningful. Nobody here should feel alone or unseen. We have linked hands and will not let go. Neither will any of us ever again take our city and its people for granted. We were on the abyss, but we did not fall inside. Today as the sun rises again we marvel in its beauty. We see clearly with eyes that had been blinded to the wonder of this great place. We mark our time with a new kind of calendar that delineates the years before the flood and those that will come after. In the AF years we will surely become even stronger than we have ever been.

In the meantime we roll up our sleeves and we work. We have to think out of the box in finding solutions for today’s problems and planning for a better future. We must be willing to request assistance. People are waiting for the calls for help. They want to help, and they will respond. Give them the blessing of being able to do so for they too need to heal. Just ask for the aid that you need, and for those who can’t seem to find a cause, just seek. Somebody will be very happy for a donation, a meal, a cup of coffee, a friendly ear, a babysitter, a fan, a bottle of bleach, a hug. There is a student who would like a bag of school supplies or needs a counselor. Each of us must find a our role in the process, a way of helping.

We won’t be done tomorrow or even in a few weeks, but there will come a time when we will be able to look back on what we accomplished as a community with great pride. We’ll wear our Houston t-shirts and boast about a city that can’t be understood until you become one of us. We are proud. We are strong. We are beautiful. We are Houston.

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Growing Pains

 

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I was under five feet tall all the way until the end of my sophomore year of high school. During the summer of that year I grew to a height of five foot six and a half inches. I went from being a short girl to a tall girl in only three months. To say that I had growing pains would be an understatement. I recall taking a hot water bottle to bed with me each night to help ease the discomfort that racked my legs. It was a disagreeable experience, but I was quite happy with my new height even if it stole away my identity as a very small girl with the last name of “Little.”

Growing pains come in the form of psychological changes as well as the physical. At the same time that my body was stretching out, I was also undergoing the angst of maturing and becoming a woman. There were so many changes inside my head that I was hardly able to keep up with them. I remember being my own worst critic. Somehow it seemed to me that I was perhaps the gawkiest, least attractive most socially backward human to ever walk on the planet. It would take me many years to learn that just about all of my classmates were feeling the same about themselves. The teen years are not all fun and games. They are a time of downright hormonal confusion. It’s a wonder that we somehow manage to muddle through those stressful moments of zits, mean girls/guys and emotions that zip from highs to lows in nanoseconds.

Ultimately I came out just fine. I have to admit that I was probably in my mid-twenties before I actually looked in the mirror and liked the person that I saw. It was quite a relief to move beyond the years of wondering who I was and settling into a loving relationship with myself. It’s really too bad that growing up involves so much learning that hurts. We have to find out the hard way who are friends really are and which risks are worthy as opposed to those that harm us. We would probably be just fine if only we listened to our elders, but most of us choose trial and error as our preferred way of becoming wise.

It’s funny how each decade of our lives involves growing pains of a sort. We have to mature into the role of spouse. It takes practice to be a good parent. We find ourselves battling with our teenagers just as we always swore we never would. When the nest is empty we must learn how to be supportive of our adult children without interfering in their own journey of growth. We assume roles of caretakers for our aging parents, walking a fine line between seeing to their comfort and safety without becoming overbearing control freaks. Our life roles move here and there, and with each new experience we find ourselves feeling those growing pains that come with change.

Perhaps one of the most difficult transitions occurs when our peers die or become seriously ill. That is when we are forced to consider our own mortality without becoming fearful or morbid. We realize that we might well have been the person who is facing one of life’s most difficult challenges. We begin to ponder the limits on our time and feel a sense of urgency in fulfilling all of the dreams that we carry in our hearts. Each moment of each day becomes a bit more precious to us as we realize that we must embrace the world and its people with the enthusiasm and curiosity of a child. In some ways growing older is much like growing younger again because the world suddenly becomes a more wonderful place. We appreciate even the smallest joys far more than we might have when we felt almost immortal.

For some reason of late I have been thinking of a childhood visit to the home of my father’s best friend. I could not have been more than five or six years old when we spent a long ago Saturday afternoon at his house listening to a Texas A&M football came on the radio. We sat in a semicircle around the big upright appliance from whence came the play by play accounts of the happenings on the field. Everyone was quite happy. There were lots of smiles and a great deal of laughter. I can’t remember the details of the game, but I do have a vivid picture of the warmth that we felt for one another. I can still smell the aroma of cinnamon toast baking in the hostess’s oven, and how delicious the hot buttery slices of heaven seemed to be. It was one of those perfect days when all seemed right with the world. With the exception of my two brothers every person who was present then has now gone to a heavenly reward, and I miss each and every one of them. Mostly though I miss that incredible feeling of pure unadulterated childhood pleasure that consumed me back then. It’s one of those feelings that I do my best to emulate whenever I can these days.

It doesn’t really take all that much to simply linger in the moment with the people that we love, but we all too often get so busy that we don’t relax enough to just be. We are thinking about those chores that we need to do, or we are worrying about what we might say next in a conversation. When we are children none of those kinds of things matter. We allow laughter and happiness to fill our beings with sheer ecstasy. As we grow older we begin to allow and appreciate the same sort of surrender.

I have actually shrunk a full two inches in height as a result of osteoporosis. My legs ache at night and I often wrap them in a heating pad. It’s as though I am somehow going back in time. I now relive my past with a whole new attitude. I like almost every single aspect of myself and the person I have been. I’ve made mistakes here and there, but they don’t seem to matter. I’m getting second chances to truly embrace who I am by forgetting myself and looking outward to the people around me. I am finding a world that is far more wonderful than I ever might have imagined. I”m going in a whole new direction and the serenity that I feel is glorious and profound. I suppose that without the pains that endured as part of my own very human experience I would not be in the place of contentment that envelops me today, so I have to be thankful for the growing that I have done, and I look forward to the rest that is to come.

Truly Madly Deeply

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One of the most fascinating books that I have ever read is Isaac’s Storm by Eric Larson, a story that details the horrific events of the 1900 hurricane that virtually decimated Galveston, Texas. I have always found the randomness of the destruction that took place in that epic event to be rather profound. With no rhyme or reason some structures were totally destroyed while others that stood right next to them exist even to this very day. Thus it seems to be when nature’s fury strikes. The fact that I still have my home in the midst of all of the misery caused by Hurricane Harvey is little more than the luck of the draw because not more than a mile away there are homes that filled with water.

In the aftermath of a storm that will surely go down in history as one for the ages, I am pensive as I listen to the sounds of life slowly coming back into the world that has been my home since my birth. This time of year the school buses should be stopping at my corner to take children to and fro. I enjoy the  laughter and the excitement of the voices that filter through my window each morning and afternoon. For now there is only the wind blowing through my trees and the hum of a generator in the distance. It’s good to hear the rumble of cars moving down the road, and now again there is a siren breaking the silence with a scream. I worry what might be happening to someone, but I also smile that it is once again possible for aid to reach whomever is in need without moving precariously through a wall of water. Even as the natural routine of things has been set askew, there is the tiniest whisper of hope assuring me that in spite of the enormity of the challenges that lie ahead, we will eventually heal and recover.

I rejoice at the messages of good news coming from friends and family about whom I had worried during the deluges that fell over my city. So many, like me, seem to have weathered the storm relatively unscathed. Given the extent of the damage to Houston it is almost impossible to believe that we indeed have a foundation of intact homes from which we might reach out to the others who were not as fortunate. As I number the dozens who will soon be assessing the damage to their houses and possessions I am truly humbled. But for chance it might just as easily been among them.

I have expressed my love for my city so many times. She is a tough girl with a heart of pure gold. She is hurting now and I know we must all show her our love by being very good to one another. She would expect nothing less from us. In the past few days we have demonstrated just how good we are at doing that. There have been so many favors performed both large and small, all designed to ease the fear and the pain that our neighbors are experiencing. We are not strangers in Houston. We are family. We understand that now more than ever.

The heat here can be brutal and the landscape is as flat as a pancake, but the real beauty of this place has always been in its people. It has historically been a town where souls come to find new opportunities just as my grandfather did when he traveled from Austria Hungary more than a hundred years ago or like my husband’s great grandfather who arrived from Georgia penniless. Houston has always been filled with promises from which individuals with little more than the clothes on their backs might find the kind of lives that would not be possible anywhere else. It is a warm hearted and forgiving place as was so dramatically demonstrated in countless ways during the last few days.

We have watched our hometown newscasters dissolve into tears as they reported the human stories that have been so difficult to hear. We have seen ordinary people brave the waters with boats and trucks so that people they have never met might be saved from the raging waters. Our mayor has stood toe to toe with all of us to keep us safe and to calm our fears. Our neighbors have walked hand in hand never even noticing any of the diverse demographics that seem to be so dividing the rest of our country. We have jumped into the task of saving ourselves and saving our city without worrying about what anyone else might eventually do for us. We understand that there is no time to wait for outside help. We are Houstonians. We take care of our own. Still we are gracious and thankful for the help that is offered because we understand that this task will surely be more than we might handle alone.

I feel a sense of pride when my grandchildren and former students check on my welfare and weather the storm to bring me items that I needed to be comfortable during the long wait for the rains to end. I smile as I see them taking charge in the aftermath by immediately volunteering at shelters and gathering truckloads of donations and supplies. How wonderful they have turned out to be. I hear that little whisper that tells me we will survive when I see how considerate and generous they are. They are the face of the future of Houston. They assure me that tomorrow will be sunny and bright.

I can’t wait to hear the incessant singing of the cicadas at night. I don’t think I will mind at all when the sun is so bright that sweat rolls down my neck. i want to see the Friday night lights of high school football and watch my grandson march with his band. I long to cheer for the Texans, and Astros and Rockets and Houston Cougars once again. I want to laugh at the antics of the Rice MOB. I long for the time when I might drive on water free roads to the Farmer’s Market on Airline or to the shops in Highland Village on Westheimer. I want to have dinner at Gringo’s or Niko Niko’s and stand in line for barbecue at Killen’s. I dream of walking the aisles of HEB and munching on a burger from Whatburger or a donut from Shipley’s. I look forward to the Nutcracker Market and Thanksgiving at my brother’s house. I can’t wait to see the Christmas lights in December and the azaleas in March. I pray with all of my heart that together we Houstonians will have the means to keep our traditions alive, because they will be more important than ever as we work our way out of the pain and the loss that is all around us. 

We are not completely out of danger just yet. As the rivers rise there may be more flooding in places that have done fairly well up to now. More heartache may ensue. More need will arise. We will be tested as a city again and again. Our marathon will be long and difficult, but I know that we have the grit that we need to see the process through.

I have cried and cried for my beautiful often misunderstood city and its people. The tragedy of it all has sometimes been almost too much to bear, but I know in my heart that we live in one of the most special places on earth. I have understood this for all of my life. I am truly, madly, deeply in love with Houston, Texas and I promise not to let her down in her hour of need

Me Time

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I had a friend who enjoyed a date night with her husband every single Thursday evening from the day that she married. Once she had children she hired a babysitter to watch them while she and her husband enjoyed their weekly interlude. She never let anything get in the way of that special time with her spouse. The two of them would eat out at different restaurants, go to movies and plays or just take a nice drive to some pretty place. She used to urge me to adopt her idea, but I always found one excuse or another for ignoring her advice. I insisted that I didn’t have enough money for such frivolities, or I complained that I was too tired after working all day. Mostly I actually felt guilty about leaving my children alone while I was out celebrating. I tended to be more like the biblical character Martha rather than Mary. I always seemed to have some pressing business that prevented me from taking a little breather from my responsibilities now and then. In retrospect I regret not having learned the art of creating “me” time until recently. Our tendency as humans is to work ourselves into a dither rather than realizing our need to care for ourselves on a regular basis. I was reminded of this by something that happened to a long time friend of mine.

Cathy. as I will call her, is the sole caretaker of her invalid husband. He has been bedridden for around two years as a result of a number of major health issues. Cathy is a devoted wife who tends to him with great love. Her days literally revolve around his needs, and it is only when someone comes to watch him that she is able to leave her home for a brief amount of time. She enjoys shopping for special foods for the both of them, so going to the local Kroger is a small treat. Unfortunately she never has a great deal of time to tarry, so she has to plan her outings vey carefully. On a recent run to the grocery store she was having a good time trying samples when she somehow got tangled on a floor mat and took a hard fall to the floor. She immediately realized that something was terribly wrong, and a visit to the local emergency room proved her fears to be well founded. She had a broken hip that would require surgery to repair. Even in her pain she was more concerned about her husband back home than her own welfare. With no family or close friends nearby she was frantic about what would happen to him while she was in the hospital. When she called me a few days later to reiterate what had happened she admitted that she had grown quite weary and that the enforced rest  that she would require to heal was something that she had long needed.

I could tell that she was still worried in spite of her protests that she was going to devote more attention to herself in the future. It is difficult for women with responsibility for other souls to even think about doing special things for themselves, but the reality is that it is something that we all need to do. It doesn’t really matter how we choose to relax and pamper ourselves, but we need to allow it to happen without guilt. Not only will we be better able to deal with our many challenges, but those that we love will begin to notice how much happier we are. We are far less likely to feel anxious or angry when we give a bit of love to ourselves.

Of late I’ve been doing nice things for me. I enjoy reading and writing, so I shut the door to my room for a few minutes each day and engage in the hobbies that relax me. I listen to my favorite pieces of music and sip on cups of hot tea. Sometimes I even save enough calories from my diet to include a cookie or two. I buy tickets to concerts and go see the movies that intrigue me. I leave the dishes in the sink and the dust on the furniture and take advantage of beautiful sun-filled days. It’s not always easy for me to leave a bed unmade in favor of doing something fun, but I am teaching myself to be more relaxed about such things. I find that in the long run I actually get more done than ever before, because I am not as tired or grumpy as I have often been in the past when I was pushing myself beyond the bounds of my energy.

I still tend to constantly worry about anyone and everyone, but I am getting way better at differentiating between situations that I might control and those that are beyond my influence. In the case of Cathy, I realized that I would be unable to run to her assistance the way that I most typically might want to do. I’ve got my hands full getting my husband back to a state of good health, and Cathy lives in Georgia while I live in Texas. I realize that I will be able to talk with her on the phone or send her notes of encouragement, but I can’t be physically there to help her through this trying time. I asked that some of my other friends pray for her with an appeal on Facebook, and to my amazement one of them just happened to know someone in the town where Cathy lives who seems willing to organize a group from church to come to Cathy’s aid. I have been overwhelmed by the generous offer, but I have also realized that another thing that we should be willing to do for ourselves is ask for assistance when we are in trouble. It’s something that we too often hesitate to do.

There are so many good people in this world who are just waiting for us to let them know what we need. It’s difficult to admit that we are not all powerful. We worry that we will be perceived as being weak or inadequate if we have to cry for relief. The reality is that every single one of us will face moments when we feel totally overwhelmed by events. That is when we need to trust  people enough to allow them to come to our aide. Believe me. There will always be someone who hears our cries and responds with love. I never cease to be amazed at the benevolence of the human spirit.

The Lord Himself instructed us to love others as we love ourselves. How is it even possible for us to truly treasure other people if we don’t place enough value on ourselves to pause to escape for just a bit from our woes? Finding those special moments that energize us just may be the most important thing that we do. Let’s all follow the example of my friend who planned a weekly outing and start exploring ways of pampering our most important selves.

Go Home

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It is barely Tuesday, August 29. The time is midnight, but I will be staying up all night. I am one of the blessed ones in Houston because my home is still dry, but it has been raining all day and storms are still raging outside. I plan to be vigilant because I just don’t know how much more water the drainage system will accommodate. I want to be ready to turn off power and prepare to camp out upstairs if the water comes into my home. I pray that I will be spared, but I have learned in only a few days that there is nothing normal or certain about this storm called Harvey. I would do well to expect the unexpected.

Yesterday was perhaps one of the most difficult days thus far in my storm watch. Far too many people that I know were reporting that their homes had been inundated with water. I had not expected to hear so many more terrible stories. The devastation is beyond anyone’s imagination. All parts of the region have been affected. Nobody is immune, so I find myself wondering when the shoe will drop for me.

My daughter had to flee her neighborhood when she was told that the levee protecting the homes from the Brazos River might not hold. It took the concerted efforts of several people armed with maps to guide her family from Houston to San Antonio. Somehow they miraculously found a way to get her family there with a very strange and circuitous route. Not long after she arrived at her destination she began to receive reports from neighbors indicating that the river near her home had gone over the top of the levee and water was filling the streets. She is happy to be safe, but uncertain that there will be anything left of her house when she returns. She is sickened by the images that her friends are sending her. These are people that she has known for years. They have raised their children together. They are like family, and now their lovely community is being ravaged mercilessly.

Someone that I have known since second grade had to flee from her home shortly before dark last night. I still have not heard whether or not she and her husband are okay. I have been quite worried. Their lovely house may be inundated by morning when the levee protecting it possibly fails. I can’t even imagine the fear and desperation that she must be experiencing now. My heart is breaking for her.

I am feeling frantic as I listen to the downpour. I want my home to make it unscathed. Some of us have to have places where our friends and family will be able to stay during the long journey back to normalcy, whatever that will be. I teeter between great hope and utter defeat. Our task will be enormous and we so want it to work out well. We are clinging to the smallest rays of hope, but Harvey appears to be laughing at us.

I have been reading articles written by talking heads who do not even live in Houston. They are attempting to analyze why we are in the midst of such a catastrophe. They want to lay blame on someone for what has happened. Is it us? Was it our ancestors? Should we indict our public officials and leaders? How silly they are. There is not a city anywhere on planet earth that would have been able to sustain the amount of rain that has been dumped on Houston for days and days. No amount of city planning or consideration of climate change would have helped. It is simply not possible to pour the equivalent of the entirety of the Mississippi River into a small area over the space of only a few days.. That is what has happened to us. We have been subjected to a freak of nature.

There are others that would have us believe that we are being punished for some horrific transgressions. What a ridiculous idea. We are good people and that is quite apparent in the behavior of both the victims of the flood and the heroes who are saving them. Houston is not an example of a horrible place that deserves vengeance. Quite the contrary. Besides God doesn’t work that way. He would not hurt millions of innocent people just to prove a point. How dare anyone even suggest such a thing when so many are suffering!

We are all trying to be very strong. We love our city and keep telling ourselves that we will overcome this. The last thing that we need is criticism. We are not interested in opinions that hint at an “I told you so” smugness. We need support, not lectures. If people can’t say something nice, then they should say nothing at all, especially when they have never even lived here. As every Houstonian knows, you must experience our city before you will ever understand it. Outsiders can’t imagine why we are so in love with this place, but we all know what the magic is.

The rain continues to pick up in intensity. I frankly can’t stand the sound of it anymore because I have seen far too many images of the ruin that it is creating. I hope that when the sun arises my home will still be high and dry. I pray that we will see the end of this sooner rather than later. We deserve a shot at mending our wounds, but that can’t happen until the water is gone. I want Harvey to go home to wherever horrible storms gol

There are so many generous souls who are coming to bring our city back to life. They are very welcome. We love them and thank them in advance. As for those who would mock us or complain that we are somehow responsible for this fiasco called Harvey, please just leave us alone. You go home too. We have work to do, and can’t afford the distraction. All we want now is to have all of our people get back home.