As I begin to write, over fifty-two inches of rain have fallen on Houston, Texas, the nation's fourth largest city. With an unforseen brutality, Hurricane Harvey continues to decimate coastal regions under a relentless deluge, the likes of which may be unparalleled in our history. With each passing moment, conditions grow worse, not better.
For hundreds of thousands of people in this country, life has fundamentally changed. Though it seems unfathomable, the bitter reality is that many people have lost their homes, cars, possessions, occupations and communities. Even for those lucky enough to have been outside the areas of concentrated destruction, life will be different, and for a while, it will probably be worse.
Having travelled to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and having witnessed first-hand the lingering impact of the Colorado floods in 2013, I have learned one important lesson. As bad as things may seem, lives can be rebuilt through communities of compassion. Through love and caring, commitment and generosity, complete strangers may lift one another from despair. At least, that's what we have to believe moving forward.
For those fortunately distanced from the destruction, it is easy to feel helpless. Unlike the volunteers and first responders who are at this moment sailing the streets to offer aid and assistance, we are left to watch and wonder. And for those who are there, who are suffering from the incessant attacks of the storm, one can only imagine their sense of utter hopelessness, as the storm washes away a lifetime's worth of work.
Helplessness and hopelessness: two tragic sides of the same coin.
But the truth is, no one should feel unable to help, because everyone has something substantial to offer. Your time, your skills, your connections, your resources... it is easy to be lulled into passive inaction, but it is important to be reminded of the change you can affect. The power of helplessness diminishes in the presence of purpose.
Here's the best part, the lesson I learned after the Colorado floods: helping engenders hoping. Without help, many people would be lost. But through help, through collective compassion, we can give the best gift of all: hope for the future.