Flood waters don’t care who you voted for, who you hate, who you pray to, or the color of your skin. They don’t distinguish between those who give charity and those who steal, between those who are “right,” and those who are “wrong.” They don’t have eyes, morality, or a conscience. They don’t see good and bad. They are an equal opportunity destroyer.
Flood waters, like all natural disasters, are the great equalizer. They afflict everyone equitably, reminding us that no matter how we try to distinguish each other, in the grand scope of things, we are all mortal, and vulnerable, and not so dissimilar.
Even more than that, they remind us that we are reliant on each other. In the normal course of daily events, we feel independent and secure. We close our doors and feel self-contained, self-sufficient, perhaps even self-righteous. But then the storm comes, and our doors are blown off their hinges. Our windows, through which we have observed others at a distance and perhaps judged them less favorably than we would judge ourselves, are shattered and the outside rushes in. The boundaries we have built between us and others have been breached. And now we must call for help.
And when we do, the ones who hear our cry are not going to pause and wonder, is that a republican calling out, or a democrat. Is it a member of my tribe, or a foreigner? Does s/he resemble me, or have very different features? Do I know that person well enough to determine whether s/he is worth helping or saving? They will not ask these questions any more than we will ask them when we hear them cry out.
They, and we, will stop and say, someone is in danger, someone is hurt. I don’t know who it is, but it doesn’t matter. It could have been me. More likely, there will be no time for such reflection. If we say anything, it will simply be, “hold on, I’m coming!”
We will respond without thinking, because you don’t think in a moment of crisis, you react. And this reaction is beyond intellect; it comes from the core of who we are. And at the core of who we are, we are not different. It is our very nature to help our own. And we realize in moments like this that “our own” is a far less narrow category than we ordinarily assume. It does not just apply to those who look like us, or act like, or come from the same places and heritage that we do. “Our own”is our species, all of those with whom we share 99.9% of our genetic makeup.
The flood of support for those in Houston and elsewhere is the silver lining in the storm clouds that have left so much devastation in their wake. Watch the videos of people rushing to the aid of others with whom they share nothing but a basic humanity and a tragic situation. Read the stories of people in cities and states around the country that are dry and unaffected who have dropped everything to go help the relief efforts. Look at all of the fundraisers and the supply collections that are happening around the world (and give to them what you can).
We are often at our best when circumstances are at their worst. These moments call forth in us an essential reality and commonality that is obscured by life’s daily exigencies. As the flood waters subsume cities and cover over the cars and homes and possessions and all of the things that differentiate us, our basic humanity is wrested from its depths and rises to the surface.
There is much work to be done now to help those who have suffered and are suffering in the flood’s wake. We can all do our part, and we can hope that the victims will soon be restored to a situation of security and prosperity. We will look forward to a return to normalcy, but not to the precise status quo that preceded the storm.
When the flood waters recede, hopefully the humanity that binds us will remain.