Humans of Earth: “We’re in this together”

creative non fiction, Iowa life, Journaling, personal essay, thoughts for living, Trends, Uncategorized

flood we're in this together

Mixed in between turning off the alerts for tornado warnings, hosting friends for a night to escape flood waters, and delivering packages of care items to various reputable groups came an envelope from my friend. Inside was the photocopy of a journal article she sent me as an addendum to a message I had passed along about a group unrelated to anything Houston or Hurricanes.

flood animals

One of the many sites where donations were being accepted and volunteers were working.

The headline on the article blared the sentiment that seems to be the unifying theme in this adopted hometown of mine: “We’re in this together.” Those words enveloped me like the warm blankets wrapped around the human beings who were rescued across eastern Texas these past weeks.

Gratefully, my family and I avoided the ravages of the disaster. We experienced minor inconveniences of having a few paid workdays taken off the schedule for me, the canceling of school for my son, and working from the rudimentary home office for my husband.  Yet, this experience brought back a flood (excuse the pun) of memories of the 1993 Iowa flooding disaster. I aided my parents in helping them clean out their water-logged basement. I drove my new war-traumatized Bosnian friends to National Guard water stations to fill up plastic milk jugs for safe drinking water. And I worked for the United Methodist Church as a religion writer and reported Christ-informed relief efforts in Iowa.

Back then, we didn’t have Facebook to telephone tree unfolding alerts or changes. We had antenna receptive televisions with local newscasts and the daily mud-soaked paperboy and girl delivery of newspapers. Somehow, though, we got word through to each other as to what to do next.

Now that the height of the crisis is over for most Texans, what does come next? A region-wide disaster affects the psychological, spiritual and material well-being of everyone. Everyone is doing their best to reframe a grim situation with a positive spin (“at least we’re still alive” and “it’s just stuff”) and a grin on their faces to bolster their own and other’s spirits. Yet, there’s going to be the span of time when people are just in the thick of it.

flood iowa

News stories in which I had a hand in reporting.

Years after the original Iowa event I was writing stories about flood relief efforts and thinking “isn’t everyone recovered yet?” Obviously, the answer was no but certainly the time span was an eye-opening dynamic for a member of the generation who was on the cusp of inventing instant-gratification technological tools.

Disasters are like the drunken uncle: everyone plans the family reunion hoping he doesn’t find out. Yet somehow, he learns of the celebration and everyone gingerly succumbs to his presence. Cousins whisper in the kitchen on what they will do if Uncle Harvey does this and what they will do if he does that. But Uncle Harvey does what Uncle Harvey does and even with all the preparation, he leaves a wake of destruction of overturned tables and tipped over Christmas trees that no one could have anticipated. After all, who behaves like that? Naturally, someone tries to intervene to calm him down and gets sucker punched. Everyone sighs and gets to work while Uncle Harvey stumbles away in a blissful state of unawareness.

flood houstonianIn between the titillating stories that are retold on anniversaries and the arrival of the next crisis, is the interstices of time when forlorn people wonder how to make order out of what seems dispassionate chaos. Because the burden of our stories is  so great to bear in isolation, we are compelled to tell it over the campfire or on our blogs and in doing so, others are encouraged to tell theirs and we can incredulously exclaim, “you, too?” We piece together a journey across the rapid progression of days which at the onset seems to have a promise of a clear direction. Then midway, either through fallible personal choices or fateful impersonal cosmic events, we become more aware that our destiny seems instead to be a succession of turning from our own self-absorbed personal goals to taking trembling note of the universal interconnectedness of us and that for eternity “we’re in this together.”

flood we're in this together

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It’s a big job but it can be done

creative non fiction, Iowa life, thoughts for living

Tucked away for the past 30 years is a letter my high school English teacher, Mrs. Esther Grosvenor, sent to me after I graduated. On a daily basis, I rarely remember of the letter’s existence. But the letter has usually resurrected itself whenever I’ve been about to embark on a life-altering change. This week was no different when I came across it, tucked in its small cedar box in the third decade from when it was originally written.

Mrs. Grosvenor taught the Colfax High School seniors their last English class before they graduated and embarked upon the world to conquer whatever it was they thought lay before them. While the 17 and 18 year old students in her class spent more time counting the days until graduation than they did counting their verbs and nouns, Mrs. G. (as we affectionately called her), nevertheless, persevered in her job in assigning the task of diagramming sentences and drilling the rows of pimple-faced boys and girls on the difference in meaning between affect and effect, lie and lay, and simile and metaphor.

If she was inpatient with the impertinence of us she didn’t show it. After 40 plus years in the classroom, Mrs. Grosvenor had developed enough equanimity about her job that not much fazed her in her interactions with children disguised as adults.

When I finished her class and Colfax High School in 1984, I also left the town for the bright city lights of Des Moines. Six weeks after I walked across the gymnasium stage, my parents had sold the-old-Miss-Byal house where we lived and packed up the green Chevy pick-up and moved us off to the town where both of them worked for the city government.

After I moved to Des Moines, I wrote to Mrs. Grosvenor. I don’t remember the details of my letter to her; likely, I thanked her for attending my graduation reception and made mention of my move. Based on her response to me, I must have had questions about the role of women in the work force.

It’s because of our move for my husband’s promotion for work, that I had the chance to reread the letter. In this move I am following my husband for his work and I am unclear as to what my professional place is. Mrs. Grosvenor’s words are more apropos now than when she originally wrote them. Her perspective on women in the workforce was formed from her own life experiences and long before feminism became a topic of conversation and debate in our popular culture.

As I settle into a new phase in my roles as wife, mother, daughter, and employee, her words provide a gentle reminder of the importance of finding the right balance. The past few years were rigorous in tending to all of my family members and embarking in a second career as a mental health counselor.

We are in the beginning stages of our family’s transition. Many details have yet to be decided upon. But just like they were 30 years ago, Mrs. G.’s words are encouraging to me. I’ll keep hanging in there and like Mrs. G. vowed for herself as she expressed her apprehension about the change she was about to seek for herself, “maybe I’ll finish that novel I started some years back.”

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