It’s Monday morning, August 28, 2017, a date that will forever be branded into my heart. I am in the room that I set up for my grandchildren to sleep in when they come to visit, and I am thinking of them and wishing that I was with them. I want to wake up from what feels like a horrible nightmare, but I know that it is all too real. The true extent of what has happened to my beloved city is only beginning to hit me and everyone else. I have cried all morning long. My emotions are raw and unmoored. I feel relief that I am still safe, but there is a gnawing sense of guilt that I have been fortunate while others are suffering so. I want to rush out and help to rebuild lives, but the streets all around are still hopelessly blocked with high water. There is more rain in the forecast. Our ultimate fates have not yet been determined. This fickle storm is striking here and there and everywhere. We have no idea whether or not we will become victims of its wrath before it decides to leave us.
Even as I write I have friends and family members who have had to evacuate their flooded homes. Last night Mike and I had to coach a niece in the safest way to shut down the electric power in her home as the waters crept dangerously close to the electrical outlets on the walls. Knowing that she had to sit in the dark in the second story of her home while the first one flooded was disturbing, but even more so was the realization that there was nothing I could do to help. She might have come to the warmth of my home in other circumstances, but for now such a journey is impossible. Frustration and worry have become our constant companions.
Meanwhile my daughter and many friends are being urged to voluntarily leave their homes because of threats that levees protecting their homes will be ineffective. The water that is expected to come from rising rivers is higher than anyone ever dreamed they would be. The levees are strong but they may not be high enough. Now those along their paths must either take their chances or attempt to find someplace to go. Nobody has any good idea of where that might be or how they will get there. So they sit and wait, hoping that their fates will not be dire, knowing that the unthinkable has already happened all over the metropolitan area from the north to the south, the east to the west. Thousands of square miles larger than the state of Delaware are inundated, within those waters were the homes and the hopes and the dreams of wonderful people whose only possessions now are their lives.
Over four million souls are struggling today to understand our new reality. We watch the images and sob. Even our newscasters break down in tears. We are overwhelmed but determined. We are the face of America, and I hope that all of the world is watching for they will learn about courage and grace from us. Still, the reality is that our city and its many suburbs have been dealt a death blow. So much has been destroyed that it is difficult to process. Our recovery will take years, and during that time our stresses will increase.
Right now we are working together. Ordinary souls are saving lives. Generous people are bringing boats and supplies and hope from all over the country. We are committed. We want to live. We want to rebuild. Even those who once resided here are filled with desire to come back to help. My grandson who is a student at Purdue University in Indiana can’t seem to focus or concentrate on his classes. He wants to fly home to help in the efforts to reclaim our city. He has cried and wondered if the people around him can possibly understand the affection that he has for his Texas home. I have counseled him to stay in a place that is safe and to fulfill his dreams and those that we have for him. Nonetheless I understand how he is feeling, because my thoughts are the same as his. Nothing seems more important than standing shoulder to shoulder with my family, my friends, my neighbors, the strangers who live here. We are all one, and the road ahead will be so very hard. Each of us will have to play a role in setting things right.
For now I want to scream each time the winds increase and the rain falls to the street below. I want it to stop. I want it go away. I want my people, my Houstonians and folks from Katy, Sugarland, Pearland, Friendswood, Dickenson, Pasadena, Magnolia, Spring, Cypress, Clear Lake City, Texas City, Bellaire and all the other suburbs to finally feel a bit of peace. We can tackle the problems of rebuilding later. For now we just need a break, a feeling of hope, or we may experience a collective breakdown.
I can’t keep up with all of the events that are unfolding by the minute. I try to find out how those that I know are doing and just when I think that they are fine something changes. We do our best to keep up our spirits. We pray together. We provide encouragement. We express our sorrows. It gives us a bit of meaning in a situation that makes no sense at all. Not since Katrina and the devastation in New Orleans has there been such an horrific disaster in the United States. The scope of the tragedy is enormous. We desperately want to begin the work, but we need for the storm to go away…now!
Patience is at a premium, but we will need it in abundance, not just today but for many days to come. Faith and optimism must guide us, even when we teeter on the verge of losing hope. We must keep our energy and determination alive. Our love must be an example to all of America. Somehow at this very dark hour in my city when the skies have once again turned gray we must be the light. It is the only way.