Lessons from Harvey.


You are a strange species. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are at their worst.  —  Starman, 1984

The above quote is from an almost forgotten science fiction movie in which a visitor  from another planet is confronted with the human condition for the first time.  He was right.   We are a savage and violent species, but when we face a common threat, we have always been able to put our differences, even enmity and hatred aside — and work together for the common good.   If it weren’t for that, I doubt we’d have survived for long.

Last week Houston was hit by what many are calling the worst storm to ever make landfall in the United States, maybe the worst storm in 500 years.   Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane, but it wasn’t the high winds or even the storm surge that caused so much devastation — it was the fact the storm sat in virtually the same place for days, dumping 50 inches of rain on the Gulf city of Houston, Texas, leaving hundreds homeless and stranded, with no way to escape.

In spite of the current political mood of divisiveness and hatred that threatens to tear our country apart, all that seemed to be forgotten during the days following Harvey’s arrival.    Hundreds of Texans who were able to unselfishly donated their time and risked their lives to rescue others.    They brought out their own boats, worked all day and night without pay,  in very dangerous conditions, to rescue complete strangers —  in some cases strangers who were very different than them.   No one cared whether the person they were rescuing (or was rescuing them) was white or black, Christian or Muslim or atheist, gay or straight, rich or poor, or conservative or liberal.    For a few days, we were all part of the human family, and nothing else mattered.

One of the most touching stories I heard was of a Mosque that opened its doors to everyone, including non-Muslims, and even stranded pets.   The mosque volunteers offered food, clothing, shelter, and emotional support to the people (and animals) who came to them for help.       Another story that touched my heart was the help Mexico offered to help the flood victims — even after our president repeatedly insulted our neighbors to the south and wants to build a wall to keep them out.  Their repayment for this insult? Only compassion and kindness.

I kept hearing other stories from Harvey that proved kindness and caring are not dead after all.   It occurred to me that maybe, as terrible as Harvey was, we needed something like this disaster to show us that we are all brothers and sisters, all part of the human family, and instead of hating groups of people who are not like us, we need to work together to help each other and promote the common good, regardless of petty differences like race, religion, or creed.