Three years ago, I had the pleasure of being in the company of several authors and speakers who were visiting the states from Europe. They were wonderful people, and we shared conversation and laughter over dinner. The gentlemen from Germany felt their contributions to art and music, to culture, were important. The couple from France pointed out that French food is incredible. The Italians chimed in with their wines, and on and on, and then the group turned to me.
Well, I did not want to brag. Americans, it seems, are always accused of being braggarts! So, in order to keep the peace, I just turned to them and said, “Well, you’ve got to admit this BBQ is pretty good!” They laughed, and the conversation shifted to soccer, or what they call football as opposed to the Pittsburgh Steelers or Carolina Panthers! Over the years I wondered what I was to say if I could recreate that conversation. I think I would have a different answer now.
Picture Perfect People
As I sit at my desk, dry and safe, Houston is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. It will be a very long time before things are “normal.” Though the flood waters have receded, the damage, the displacement and even the illnesses persist.
It may take months or years before we can use the words “returned to normal.” Even if no one in a family was injured, if they lost their home or apartment and all of their possessions, filing claims and recovering from the damages could take forever.
However, images emerge from Houston that made me feel optimistic that I need to share. The first was a man who streamed a video of a sweet dog sitting in the back seat of his pickup truck. It wasn’t his dog. He was driving along trying to escape the rising flood waters when the dog literally climbed into the back of the truck. Being a dog lover, the man pulled over as soon as it was safe to do so and brought the dog into the truck to dry. The dog looked bedraggled, yet comfy, sitting on a big thick blanket. The man streamed the video on social media. Though the dog had a collar, he couldn’t reach anyone (understandable), so he assured the owners he would care for the dog and keep her safe. He told them not to worry.
The second image is even more touching.
I don’t know who took the picture, but it shows a pastor in a small boat in the middle of a driving rainstorm. By that point, the water in the area where he was searching was at least 3 1/2 feet high. He was paddling along from one abandoned automobile to the next making sure that no one was trapped inside the vehicles. He was a part of no emergency rescue service or volunteer fire department. He was doing it out of love of his fellow man. And in a related story I saw briefly on the evening news, another Houston-area man was at the boat store spending his hard-earned money on a small boat specifically to help rescue people and pets from the flood waters. I have no idea what the man did for a living but, as I recall, he was wearing the uniform of a working man—perhaps a garage mechanic or a bus driver.
These are brief stories from thousands and thousands of other acts of courage, charity and love that have brought Houston together. The government has done a great deal in the way of help and resources, that is true, but what is most important is how ordinary Americans have gathered in a time of crisis.
A Different Response
My answer today would be that America is occasionally an atypical country. I would be the first to admit it. We fight and bicker amongst ourselves. We sometimes talk too much and aren’t everything we “post” to be. We are opinionated and occasionally oafish. We have made mistakes; we have not always been kind to one another; we have ruined beautiful places that now need restoration. Sometimes our missteps bring us shame and embarrassment. It causes us to admit we are not perfect. It makes most of us want to do better.
However, at the end of the day, what makes America special are people. We are the daughters and sons of immigrants. We are every color of the racial rainbow. We are every religion. We are dreamers—because we can. Most all of us are very accepting. We are sometimes too complacent, easygoing and perhaps too informal. We are all those things and more.
But when it turns bad, harsh or desperate, there is something ingrained in the American psyche that produces magic. I remember the famous line from the movie Apollo 13, “Houston, we have a problem.” Right now, Houston has an enormous problem, but not its people. We will be all right because we have an extraordinary faith in one another, and that, my friend, is what makes us special.