For many of you, the flooding isn’t over and won’t be for a considerable length of time. The aftermath of the rainstorms will last for months to come. Times will be tough, and you will wonder, “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Didn’t I have enough problems to deal with before the storm?” “Am I being punished by G-d or tested?” “Is he trying to wake me up to say, ‘I got to change my ways and this is a warning?’.” Or, is he saying, “You have the power in you to overcome this adversity and to make your life even better than before. By virtue of this experience you can learn that what’s really important isn’t tangible. It’s people, feelings and emotions.”
I wish I could give you a definitive reason for what happened, but I can’t. All I can say is that my heart is with each of you. I feel overwhelmingly depressed by the sight of your household belongings, family photos, clothing, furniture and water- logged carpet and sheetrock heaped on street curbs. I know that many of you are devastated emotionally, confused about what’s going to happen, stressed over where you will live, and how you will pay for it. They’re normal considerations, but sometimes the distinction between them can become blurred and leave you feeling disheartened and depressed.
I also know some of you are angry and looking for a place to deposit that anger. “It’s the city’s fault. It’s the government’s fault. They’ve been working on the bayou for years, and they’ve never completed it.” Personally, I wonder how much work it would take for any bayou to drain 11 inches of rain. Others, depending on age, will look at this as a precursor to the end. “I’ve lost everything that was important to me, and I question, why? I feel helpless and have no hope for the future.”
I understand, but you do have a choice. You can feel that way the rest of your life or you can look at the opportunity you have to build again and make things better than they were before. Others of you may bask in your depression, “I always get the short end of the stick. I have no luck. When there is misery, it’s always going to find me.”
A few of you will see the flooding as a motivational source that can help you discover energy inside that you didn’t realize you had. As a result, you’ll be better able to face the problems caused by the storm and your life, though still taxed, will be enriched by the experience because the measure of a man or woman isn’t whether you experience tragedy or success, it’s how you dealt with the tragedies you’ve had to face.
You may think, “It’s easy for Ed Reitman to say these things, but we’re the ones it’s happened to and the ones who have to deal with this catastrophe.” If these are your thoughts, know that there’s a great deal of truth to them. However, let me assure you that Harriet and I have been there, gone through it and overcame it. In the process, the lesson we learned was that you do whatever you have to do in order to survive, to make it in the world and, in order to honor the fact that G-d gave you life, it’s your responsibility to live it, not lament it.
All I have to do is think back to the late 1980s when Houston went through a severe financial crisis. The banks were going under, real estate was a disaster, the oil business was depressed and Harriet and I took several catastrophic hits. It was the time I told her, “Whatever you do, don’t quit your job.”
Psychotherapy is a luxury. Hungry people without jobs, who are facing disaster, don’t come to therapy. They can’t afford it. As a result, my income spiraled down. The real estate we owned wasn’t able to carry itself. The bank I had invested in failed, and I thought, “We’re one step from the poorhouse. Things were tougher than I had ever experienced before. I felt a failure. Even more, I didn’t know what I could do to get out of the mess. I’d like to tell you that a light suddenly appeared and everything cleared up, but it didn’t.
Months later, our house burnt down, and it was insured for only about 50 percent of its worth. Not to mention the fact that the thousands of dollars’ worth of art we had accumulated from our travels wasn’t insured. We also had to find a place to live, and sadly, I was so confused and depressed that we moved from place to place, never realizing that the insurance company would’ve put us up.
We later moved into a townhouse where three men in ski masks, kicked in the door, beat me up, dragged my wife out of bed, stole what jewelry we had left and locked us in a closet. Still later, we lost our son. That’s when I asked all the questions I suspect many of you are asking now. I can go on and on but what I’m saying to each of you is that in the course of living life, if you live long enough, you lose things and experience tragedy and disappointment, but they will be intermingled with the positives that life has to offer.
Sixteen years later, I still sometimes look for a jacket that I know is in my closet, only to recall it was burned in the house we lost. And, I can laugh. The memories don’t go away, and the hurts never disappear. But, the will to life, to survive, to honor the life you’ve been given will be there. You may not be able to see it at this moment, but know that time is a wonderful medicine. It will mitigate your hurt and provide the strength you’re going to need to get over these dark dismal days.
Fortunately, there are friends who will support and be there for you. There are partners with whom you can learn to lean on and, oddly enough, you eventually will be able to look back and say, with a tinge of humor, “this is how high the water got.” In essence, what I am saying is, “have hope.” Out of the ashes, as the saying goes, the phoenix can rise, there can still be good times and new experiences that will cause you to value and love life.
Lastly, to all of you who are living through this tragedy, let me say that I’m truly sorry, and let me assure you that tomorrow will bring better times.