Houston is in recovery mode. It’s just beginning and it’s going to be a long and arduous journey. Driving through the streets in areas that have been hit hard is breath stopping. There are no words to describe what it’s like seeing people’s whole lives laid out in huge piles on their front lawns. House after house after house. The pain is too much to comprehend, too intense to articulate.
As the recovery starts, the kindness pouring in is beyond what I have ever seen. On a city-wide level, within the Jewish community of Houston, and amongst the greater Jewish communities across the U.S., the kindness going on is monumental. True heroes are stepping up and doing amazing work. People are taking charge of organizing thousands of meals, distributing truckloads of supplies, overseeing countless loads of laundry, opening their homes to friends and even strangers who no longer have a livable home. From around the country, trucks keep coming, bringing supplies and food. Volunteers continue to fly in to help with the laborious tasks of clearing out houses. The calls keep coming and coming with questions about what people can do to help. But what’s truly amazing to me is that the kindness seems to have gone beyond the flood with a contagious attitude in the air of wanting to help people. My friend told me that she is struggling financially right now. While shopping at the supermarket, she carefully went through the items she was buying and put back a few to try to keep herself within her budget. As she finished paying, she noticed the person behind her doing the same thing. She said this contagious feeling of wanting to help from all the flood kindness going around, made her reach back into her wallet, hand her credit card to the cashier and tell the cashier to include those items the women had taken off the conveyor belt. Everywhere I go, I get the feeling people are acting just a little more thoughtful. And it’s making me want to be a part of it, too.
Labor Day was on Monday. No school and no work. My husband had a full day volunteering. He started off in a counseling center as a volunteer counselor. He then went to a house and spent a few hours clearing out ruined furniture and ripping up drywall. From there, he made phone calls helping people navigate forms that they needed to complete. Finally, he went to help with food preparation for a barbecue dinner being prepared for people who needed dinner.
I wanted to be a part of the volunteer efforts. But with school out, I had my kids with me and needed a creative idea that could involve them, too. Knowing that people around us are suffering so much, it seems important that our children felt like they did something to help. My daughter and her friends decided to bake cupcakes and tie a note with the message “Our thoughts are with you.” We then went to the store, bought cans of soda and PowerAde, loaded them into coolers and headed out. We drove to areas that we knew had been flooded badly where I would stop the car, and the kids would distribute cold drinks and cupcakes to homeowners and volunteers working tirelessly in the heat. It really wasn’t much, and was nothing compared to what others are doing, but it was a way to show we are thinking of them. Time after time, we saw an anxious, worried face relax and brighten up just a little. My 7 year-old-son said to me, “It’s weird to think that a couple of weeks ago, everyone was just minding their own business. Now, they’re all thinking ‘What errand can I do to help someone else?’”
The Jewish communities in Houston have come together in a unified effort to help anyone in need. I am in awe of all these local heroes. Jewish communities across the country have reached out too with a continuous supply of donations, food and man power. This week we had guests staying in our house each night. They all came to help, spending all day doing strenuous labor- ripping up floors and clearing things out. They helped out in homes of Jews and non-Jews, assisting whomever needed assistance. It is a very comforting knowing that when something happens and help is needed, we will band together and be there for each other.
G-d created a world whose essence is one of triumphs and travails, joy and tragedy. Since the dawn of time, natural disasters have been a part of that reality. The answer that disasters often provide is an insight into who we are and who we can become. Even as the torrential rain tore apart Houston, it was building bridges of empathy and brotherhood. If you want to restore your faith in mankind, look at what’s going on in Houston. May this contagious kindness just keep spreading and spreading.