Much of the American public is already wearying of news from Houston and the Gulf Coast. But the real story of the devastation will only be revealed as the waters recede. I find myself bracing for much more heartbreaking news. Living through this disaster and through the inevitable ups and downs of the recovery process will take many years.
I remember my many trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I was serving as UUA President and we had raised money to support both rebuilding of our churches and to contribute to the community at large. Viewed from Boston, distributing those funds seemed simple. But with each visit to New Orleans and each meeting with the local committee charged with “on the ground” direction of the effort, it seemed to get more and more complicated. Tempers often flared. Decisions had to be revisited again and again. Tears often overcame the carefully planned agendas.
I soon realized that while those of us from the UUA were ready for rational decision-making, the New Orleanians were living through post-traumatic stress. They were stuck in the traumatic disruption of their lives and the lives of their churches and communities.
Hurricane Harvey is larger and its aftermath will no doubt be larger still. The PTSD will be much more widespread. Remember how Katrina revealed in shocking images the racism and the poverty we had come to accept. Remember how a significant percentage of the African American population of New Orleans was forced into diaspora.
What will be revealed about the structure of power and privilege in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?
Now we are flooded with images of rescues, of the kindness of both neighbors and strangers. Private boats and jet skis have saved far more persons than the Coast Guard helicopters. Those images teach of our capacity to survive by helping one another.
There will be fewer images that speak to the fragility of our lives together. It is difficult to capture the way small increases in the temperature of the Gulf waters are intensifying storms like Harvey. Difficult to capture a convincing picture of the narrow range of conditions in which our lives can thrive.
While we have been consumed with the tragedy along the Texas coast, the monsoon season in South Asia (India, Nepal and Bangladesh) has intensified as well. The flooding there is severe. 1200 are known dead and 41 million impacted by flooding. Half of one Indian state is literally underwater.
In Nepal, elephants, not jet skis, have been saving stranded families.
In New Orleans, the same levys were rebuilt, just stronger. What came after the human disaster was an attempt to recreate what had been. Is that what will come after the water recedes in Houston and the Texas coast? Will we attempt to build back our way of life…but stronger. Or will we finally begin building a new way. What comes after this disaster cannot be a return to the unsustainable past. There are neither enough jet skis nor enough elephants to save us from the changes we have set in motion.
This Sunday our offering will be taken to support the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s disaster relief efforts on the Gulf Coast.