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Lessons from Harvey - 9/15/2017

I’m sitting in my study, feeling safe from the inclement weather, wearing dry clothing, and fresh out of a warm shower. The A/C and electricity are functioning, the water, which two days ago obscured the street and sidewalk, has totally receded and everything seems quite well. That’s notwithstanding the fact that a plethora of pots, pans and containers of varying sizes and shapes are scattered on the floor of the living and master bedrooms. Their purpose is to catch an almost constant flow of ugly brown liquid dripping through openings in the sheet rock on the ceiling. But, despite that, I feel extremely fortunate to have survived Hurricane Harvey as well as I have.

Emotionally, however, I feel a tinge of guilt for having fared as well as I did. That’s at least in comparison with the thousands of displaced men, women and children who were forced to evacuate their homes, carrying their most prized possessions in either garbage bags or any other makeshift container they could find. It makes me question if I have a right to be upset over the relatively minor damage to my home when others are experiencing far more devastating problems.

In part, I attribute my feelings to a statement I heard years ago: Your own stress and angst over a procedure to cure an ingrown toenail is no different than the emotional upset and fear that someone else experiences while waiting for a heart transplant. Logically, it makes little sense but, emotionally, it has a great deal of validity. Although we intellectually know that our pain pales when compared with what others are experiencing, we don’t care because emotions don’t necessarily coincide with knowledge. Therefore, we need to credit it to survivor’s guilt and forgive it because we have every right to feel and react to our own loss and despair.

Without a doubt, countless people have been devastated, physically, emotionally and financially because of Harvey. But, no matter whether we’re rich or poor, what religion we are, or the color of our skin, loss is loss. Hurt is hurt and pain, disappointment and sadness are the same for each of us. We all bleed red blood, and the feelings we experience are exactly the same. The lesson we need to recognize is that in times of desperation, crisis, catastrophe or war, we become colorblind. The person who hands out food to you; the man or woman who rescues you by boat, helicopter or dump truck; the person who hugs you when you’re scared for your life can be a man or woman, a homosexual, lesbian or a Muslim, Christian or Jew. It makes no difference whether he or she has piercings, tattoos or dreadlocks. It doesn’t matter because, in the end, we all require the same things: food, air, water and love. Without them, we can’t survive. But, with them, we can learn to trust and feel safe and hopeful for the future.

The Harvey’s in our lives can teach us to live in peace with ourselves and with each other because they can help us to recognize our strengths, our humanness and our resiliency. The can aid us to accept our vulnerabilities and as a result allow us to be more sensitive, nurturing, compassionate, kind and loving. The sad fact is, that no matter how many churches, synagogues or mosques there are or how moved we may be by what we learn from attending worship services once a week, the lessons we learn there have a short shelf life. That’s all too frequently evidenced by the way people drive out of the parking lot right after services. All of which makes you wonder how many Hurricane Harvey’s do we need to experience to bring out the goodness in us or to cause us to realize that having loving regard for one another is the only means by which we and our society can successfully survive, not only for one day but for the years that are still to come.

Today, the sky is clear, and we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But, for all too many people that light is only a speck in a very long distant future. Their lives, as they knew them, are gone, possibly forever. Their hurt, pain and loss, whether financial, emotional, tangible or intangible, will not end when the water recedes. It could continue for months or possibly even years to come. It is heartbreaking for everyone and, for some persons, it may be totally devastating. The sadness is that only a few individuals will profit, long term, from this catastrophe. I don’t mean by taking advantage of or benefiting financially from the sorrow and misfortune of others, but by emotionally learning from the lessons it affords us.

The best example I can share came from a very dear friend, who lost his home, furniture, cars and art collection, as a result of the floodwaters. He emailed me in the middle of the storm saying, Times like this give you an opportunity to reevaluate life and to cause you to remember that material things are not relevant. That those things that are most important are living life in a manner that you can feel proud of, having good health, feeling safe and secure, and being able to share your time, feelings and emotions with those you love. That’s all that really matters.

My response to him was, Maybe, that’s what these times are meant to do.  The only problem is too many of us don’t learn from them. Apparently, we have such short memories that we need to be reminded of what matters, over and over again. Think about it: The lessons we should have learned from Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden, Moses and the Flood, the Crusades, the war to end all wars, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima, 9-11, and the Boston Marathon, just to name a few, didn’t teach us the basic lesson we human beings need to learn: that material things don’t matter, but people do.  Perhaps, it’s time to listen and learn.

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