My recent deployment to Houston on behalf of the Red Cross was eye-opening: very sad for so many of the victims, a fair taste of how the Red Cross operates, a good use of my way of providing service and, overall, an affirmation of what’s inside human beings in a crisis.
What was slightly unexpected was how much life went on as usual in and around a true disaster. Some of the flood victims themselves commented on it. Every news show in the morning began with the weather report since even a small amount of rain was a source of dread. No place to put any more water. Still, the city was far from at a standstill, and the highways were jammed with commuters. In the neighborhoods though, people were putting their saturated furniture, rugs, and belongings out on the curb, and running fans with every window open despite the heat, hoping to minimize the mold.
Many well-off people were flooded out for the second or even third time within a year, but there’s no escaping that the poor and working poor were disproportionately affected.
They didn’t have as many friends and close relatives able to swoop in and put them up for the night and feed them. The obvious displacement and disruption of family life was compounded all too often by the loss of flooded vehicles which provided transportation to work or were central to that work: hauling, carrying tools, being crucial to an ongoing small business. These folks ended up spending the night on cots on a stadium floor with their children, along with hundreds of others.
Even though so many had very little and then lost everything, most people were calm, patient, cooperative, and appreciative. Very few people became unreasonable. A few were in shock or distraught. That’s where I and my mental health colleagues came in.
Frankly, it didn’t take much to help people feel and manage their emotions in a way that got them back to functioning, taking care of those who needed them, and beginning to think about what’s next from here. I was very impressed with my fellow human beings. They rose to the occasion, gave and received help, and conducted themselves with pride and grace in circumstances that could challenge anyone’s equanimity and dignity.