This past week, areas of southeast Texas and Louisiana were struck by one of the most damaging rainfalls in United States history. On the evening of August 25, Hurricane-turned-Topical Storm Harvey hit land.
Flooding caused by the storm continues to claim lives, cause innumerable injuries, destroy countless homes, and cause billions of dollars in damages. The scenes of devastation coming from these areas are shocking and the stories of loss of life are disturbing and unsettling to all people of good will.
And yet, in the midst of this natural disaster, what have we seen in the storm areas in terms of human behavior? Is there mass looting, racial tension, battles over historical monuments, or acts of raw violence? Is there anything similar to the barbarous and selfish world of the Game of Thrones that was reviewed last week in this column?
Quite the opposite. The images coming from Houston and other affected areas show us acts of selfless service, immense kindness between neighbors, and a strong drive to assist those in danger or in need. We’re witnessing a different way of life from that of other social situations and events that have displayed maliciousness and animosity.
With every image of benevolence from Texas and Louisiana, we’re being reminded of the choice we all have: To refuse darkness and to serve what is true, select what is good, and manifest what is beautiful about ourselves, our community, and about human nature in our world today.
This observation is not to romanticize the disaster, but is an attempt to discern what lessons can be drawn from it or what good can be seen in the chaos caused by it. Certainly, the devastated area is not paradise. There has been some looting and random acts of violence.
The level of such crimes, however, is far below any rational projections in light of such a complete loss of social order and infrastructure. And so, as Harvey has thrown the Gulf Coast into a state of national emergency, an uplifting – and much needed – panorama of good will and charity has taken shape. This grassroots care and concern for one’s neighbor convicts us all of our call to serve and help our fellow human beings.
In a telegram to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, the Vatican communicated that Pope Francis was “deeply moved” by the loss of life and the material devastation caused by the natural catastrophe. It likewise indicated that the pope “trusts that the immense and immediate needs of so many individuals and communities will continue to inspire a vast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid in the best traditions of the nation.”
And so, this is the hope of our time, namely, that the “needs of so many… will continue to inspire a vast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid… .” This hope is immediately concerned with the necessary recovery from the effects of Harvey. But can we dare to push this hope to include, not only hurricane relief, but our social sense as a people and our civility as a nation? Is there enough charity to cover, not only the effects of Harvey, but the other areas of our social life together?
The very practical, on-the-boat and in-the-trenches response to Harvey is the overwhelming answer to nihilism, chaos, deconstruction, and anarchy, namely, we are called to respect and care for one another.
Other popular but dark answers of violence and assault on one’s neighbor are exposed by the reaction to this storm. In our disagreements and in our desire for justice, we are called to extend and apply the solidarity and mutual aid of Houston and other places into our social interaction.
The outpouring of love in the devastated areas of the Gulf Coast present a strong witness to our country and our world today. It calls us to once again recognize and live by our higher natures and to appreciate and seek the greater good in ourselves and in our society. As we see neighbor helping neighbor of every color and creed, we are reminded of one another’s dignity and of our shared humanity.
As we allow ourselves to know the fear, distress, and vulnerability of our neighbors, we see the beauty of life and of humanity in one another. This recognition is what unites us and summons us all to civility and to a greater kindness. This awareness is what compels us to honor our neighbor even as we intensely disagree or debate about history, the placement of statues, racial equality, and public policy.
From these observations, a command can be gleaned from the message of Pope Francis: It’s time for solidarity and mutual aid. It’s time for social stability and peace. It’s time for us to respect and love one another. Now is the time for prayer and an appeal for God’s blessing.