Community

I wrote a blog article on how to deal with a difficult boss and intended to publish it today. Given the events of the past week, this topic does not seem very important. This past week has been one of the most intense of my life. My hometown of Houston Texas was devastated by an epic flood from Hurricane Harvey. I have lived in Houston since the mid-1960s and thought I had seen every kind of flood that could come our way. Prior to Harvey’s arrival, I was skeptical of the warnings heard from the news media. With minor arrogance, I consider myself an amateur meteorologist and I did not understand all the hoopla. After all, the actual hurricane was not striking Houston. We would get a bit of rain, maybe some minor street flooding, just a small bump in the road.

I could not have been more wrong. While the hurricane landed south of Houston, the rains stalled over the upper Texas coast and, like a bad house guest who does not know when to leave, stayed for 4 days. The Houston area received 40-50 inches of rain, equaling the annual rainfall amount. Although our house did not flood, I knew there would be a serious disaster affecting the entire area.

While the rain continued, our church opened its doors as a shelter. For the next 5 days, my wife and I worked helping flood victims. These days were filled with many emotions from fear to sadness to joy. We met people from all walks of life. The flood did not care about wealth, race, or political views, the rising waters became the great human equalizer. We are living through one of the most divisive times in my memory. The four days of flooding virtually eliminated all division.

It was a time of people simply helping other people because there was a clear need. For the first time in a long time, I felt a sense of community. Prior to Hurricane Harvey, there was little evidence of community. I barely know my neighbors as we rapidly live our “busy” lives. Our affluent and transient society has diminished any sense of community. Our rejection of community is sad in that we miss a crucial element of deriving joy in our lives as well as the obvious benefit of helping others.

The response to Hurricane Harvey was clear and overwhelming. That lost sense of community was shocked back into action by the massive flood. People were out and about helping their neighbors in many ways. The area was struck with a common struggle and there was no doubt that many of our friends and family were suffering. The knowledge of suffering is what spurred folks to action. Perhaps in our routine lives, we need more knowledge of suffering to help others. Obtaining this knowledge of suffering requires a deeper relationship with our friends and neighbors. This is just one example of how building stronger relationships is a good thing.

I used to travel a lot in a previous job. After many years of exploring different lands and cultures, I concluded that most people were essentially the same. Everyone wants the basics such as food, shelter, and companionship. Family matters to every culture and is a top priority of our daily lives.  This unified sense of purpose and kindness gets lost as we move beyond the basic essentials of survival. Moving beyond the basic human needs potentially leads to affluence. I believe the affluence of our country is a key contributor to our divisiveness.

Back to Hurricane Harvey. For a time, this natural disaster stripped away our affluence. Folks from every economic standing and political persuasion lost everything. It is on this common ground that community was reborn. There emerged a caring compassionate community willing to do whatever was necessary to help fellow humans who were recently total strangers. The joy received from helping others in need is immeasurable and much more valuable than any material endeavors.

Most of the flood waters from Harvey have abated. Will this sense of community last? Probably not. Once a feeling of normalcy returns, our search for material things will claw its way back into our lives. Still, this was a big deal and certainly changed our city. Perhaps there is some hope that a permanent focus on community will emerge.

My hope for Houston, the nation, and the world is for a better sense of community. Let’s not wait for the next disaster to assist others. Opportunities abound to help others as a part of our daily lives. I hope you can consistently find the joy that is received from serving others. What lessons from Harvey will you apply to help build community?

Make the most of this day!

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