I have strong memories of what went down during the flood of 2016, who here doesn’t? Riding my bike down to tiger bend to get a look at the water that was up to people roofs. It didn’t feel real, the water was dark and murky, filled with floating pieces of wood. It was like a movie, I marveled at it, at the same time hoping that those houses with water touching the roofs didn’t still have people in them.
There was a day I got a text in the group chat with my 3 closest friends in it. About an hour before we had all been talking about how scary this must be for people being directly affected by it, while we all stayed dry in our unflooded homes so sure we would be just fine. One of us had gone out to eat, anxious, but not scared of the water, I mean it had to stop rising soon, right?
But then the text came in, “The waters coming in so fast” it read. Text after text she sent looking for some consolation that I could only attempt to give her. Within the hour that she was gone the waters had started to close in, and had just begun to make their way into her back porch. In the next 60 minutes she would have to pack her things, bring as much upstairs as possible, grab her dogs and drive her car to higher ground. She got 5 feet, and within an hour had lost years of memories made in the house she grew up in.
Later that night I went to get a snack in the kitchen, admittedly exhausted but with too much on my mind to even sit still. I had been watching videos to clear my head, still staring at my phone as I grabbed a granola bar from the cabinet. I heard a car pass by and looked up for a split second, but just long enough to see the waves generated from the passing truck. I ran to the window, pressing my face to the glass, hoping to god it was just a dream.
Now panicking and breathing short and shallow breaths I headed to the end of the street, to see my neighbors in their yard at 2 am watching the water slowly creep into the street I had been so sure would stay dry. I frantically texted the only people I knew to, feeling sick to my stomach as I imagined what would be made of my house in the next 12 hours. I never did flood, at its highest point the water was about 3 feet away from my house, but never a drop indoors.
I was safe, and dry, but while I was crying over the fear of losing everything I had ever known, I got calls. Calls from the two friends in that group chat who had both lost the first floors of their houses, assuring me I would be ok, and calmly instructing me on what to pack and how to get ready in case I needed to get out of there fast.
The following weeks seemed like a blur, peoples entire lives were stacked up in front of their houses waiting for the garbage trucks, while the air itself seemed to be drenched in the thick muddy stench the water had brought with it. The town I had grown up in was reduced to trash, the memories that had once soaked the walls of people’s homes were now replaced with the cloudy water that didn’t seem to care who you were or what it took. Everything was leveled, and we were all on the same playing field.
Not even a day after the water had subsided did the texts start coming in. people who were otherwise never willing speak, suddenly started helping each other out, coming over without having to be asked, to do work in unbearable heat in houses without air-conditioning. Sports teams were sharing names and addresses of people who had been badly affected, asking anyone who could to help people they weren’t even related to, or friends with.
People who hadn’t spoken in years were talking like long lost friends, laughing together and offering any kind of help they could. My father, who was working in the emergency call center during the aftermath, would come home to tell me stories of people with boats begging officers to let them help in the more dangerous areas, and I’m sure we can all remember the video of the young man risking his life to not only save a strangers, but also dive under the water into her sinking car to rescue her drowning dog.
I realized in that time, that if anything good had to have happened as a result of the flood, it was the community that it brought forward. The sheer selflessness and need to help anyone hurting, no matter who they were or what they looked like, a stark contrast to what our city was like before the flood. In the weeks leading up to it we had become so polarized that the tension in the air could be cut with a knife. After the killings of Alton Sterling and the several police officers the streets had begun to feel unsafe, and news stations even began to advise against going out at night. Not because of one group of people, but because it seemed like everyone was just waiting for a chance to lunge at each other’s throats.
Violence began to break out, and at that time we paid more attention to the things that made us different, treating variances in physical appearance like flaws instead of examples of what makes this country great. It had become so easy to give into fear and hate, but in the moment when we all were afraid of the same thing, we came back together to be the community that we see today. Generous people who in a time of need forgot what they were so afraid of before, because in comparison to the rising waters everything else had become superficial.
We didn’t care what we said or what we did before, the only thing that we knew was that others needed help; and in a time of such great need, we opened up our arms ready to accept others into our homes and share whatever we had. My question now is, why does that change.
When we’re going throughout our daily lives and are no longer in danger of a natural disaster washing us all away, why do we lose that sense of community. When things are dangerous and scary we come together, but when the common enemy subsides and we’re all back in our warm beds why do we find it so easy to sink back into the division we had before. Does it take a natural disaster that puts all of our lives at risk to make us realize that everything we hold against each other really doesn’t matter?
I hope not. And I hope that through education and times of reflection like black history month we can learn to come together like we did at that time.