East Central Louisiana received over 20 inches of rain a few weeks ago. That is a problem anywhere. The storm delivered an extraordinary one-in-a-hundred to one-in-a-thousand-year rain. We responded in our usual way.
A few weeks earlier, you were told that the United States is deeply racist. The news media was all over the riots and violence in Dallas, in Milwaukee and in Baton Rouge. The media was busy telling us we’re all hateful bigots. We were told that the American people needed serious government intervention in order to fix our ills.
The media was profoundly absent last week in Louisiana when neighbor helped neighbor. Let me be more accurate and less poetic, stranger helped stranger. Some industry failed in the recovery. Some government agencies failed. What succeeded was the continuous resourcefulness of people with a will to help.
A guy with a foot of water in his house stopped rescuing his possessions and saved his neighbor’s life. Louisiana is a sportsman’s paradise. Thousands of citizens grabbed their flat bottom boats and pulled survivors from the rooftops. There was no evacuation plan. Twenty inches of rain in two days rewrites the flood map. Hundreds and hundreds of volunteers saved people and pets from the brown swirling water. They invented the means and methods on the spot. They moved boats and volunteers where they were needed as cell phone communications failed. They took people off roofs and got them to dry land.
People who didn’t have boats brought what was needed. They brought fuel, food and blankets as 20 thousand people were forced from their homes.
The rescuer and rescued didn’t know each other. They didn’t go to the same school, same church, or even share the same denomination. What they had is the same heart. My son summed it up. He said, “Dad, this could happen to anyone.” Thousands of people felt the same way.
They started to clean up the mess. Business and churches collected their lists of those who needed help. They had to gut the waterlogged inside of their homes in order to save the buildings. Thousands of volunteers donated hundreds of man years of labor as they carted a lifetimes of possessions to the curb.
My son volunteered for the clean-up. “This is so sad,” he said as he cried. The homeowner, the man who had lost everything, put his hand on my son’s shoulder and said it would be alright. It will be. No one asked if the home they worked on belonged to a black person or a white person. No one asked if the volunteers were Baptist or Catholic.
We live a hundred miles from the flooding. Neighbors we’ve never met were in need. We came to help, but the TV cameras stayed away. The media crews couldn’t find a story they wanted to tell.
These flood victims and volunteers are sad, but not broken. Most of the victims lost everything. We also found something important amidst the debris on the curb. We found that we are not broken as a people. We care for each other. What happened in Louisiana is not special, but ordinary. We will care for each other the next time too, be it flood, fire, earthquake or illness. Government officials can lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.
That isn’t the story the major news organizations need. The story of honorable and compassionate people helping their fellow man won’t sell soap or socialism… so it isn’t mainstream news. That is important too.
Recognize the distorted image we’re sold by the media. The flood and rescue is the real truth about us as a people. You dried the rain of tears. You dammed the flood of despair. With 600 words, I can’t convince you of something you don’t already know, but the rescuers can remind us of something we might have forgotten.
You’re doing it right. Bless you, and please carry on.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:August_2016_Louisiana_Flood_Tickfaw_20160815-OC-DOD-0003.jpg; CC by 2.0; US Dept of Agriculture