There were two floods in Texas this week.
The first left much of Houston under water — and Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical depression, is still leaving destruction in its wake.
But the second flood this week was somehow more powerful than the first. It was the outpouring of help and support for the people of southeast Texas, many of whom have lost everything.
National disasters generally don’t have silver linings. The physical toll, the loss of life, possessions and livelihoods, never mind the emotional and psychological scars that watching your home literally float away can leave, are untold.
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But if there is anything positive to glean from the past week of tragedy, it’s that in times of crisis, much of what divides us — race, religion, creed, socioeconomic status, immigration status — falls away and reveals the humanity beneath the surface that unites us all.
The stories of people, some storm victims themselves, boarding boats — risking their own lives to rescue strangers trapped in high waters, are heartening.
The clothing, food and diaper drives, the charitable giving around the country and the rush of services and volunteers to the affected areas is a much-needed reminder of all that is good about our nation.
“I have an idea for replacing one of those statues...” quipped one person on Twitter, referring to a photo of a rescue working carrying two young children, one in each arm, through waist-deep water.
Harvey has shown that even in this national moment of extreme partisanship and enmity, Americans are fundamentally good people, and very willing to help those in need.
No one was asking if someone was a Democrat or a Republican before they lifted them into their boat.
Would it be uncouth to say this is exactly what America needed?
The real test of our magnanimity will be how well this effort is sustained.
And we know it will take years — possibly decades — to restore Houston and the coastal towns like Rockport and Port Aransas, to what they once were.
Some of the heavy lifting will need to be done by the federal government, which is already providing security and offering relief services.
Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are working “be working on a supplemental appropriations bill to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has requested $150 billion for Houston but warns this may just be a “starting point.”
“It appears we will basically need to rebuild Houston,” her spokesperson said.
Rebuilding the fourth-largest city in the nation will require an unprecedented effort, and the government can only do so much.
Lives — not just homes and offices — will need to be rebuilt.
And many of the people Harvey has affected will not have the capacity to do either.
That’s where organizations that take the long view will play a critical role.
“If you and I were in this situation we might need help, but if you’re poor you definitely need help,” said Heather Reynolds, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth.
Her organization is coordinating financial donations and volunteers for the diocese and mobilizing donors in the Catholic community.
“Everybody wants to help, and that is great,” she said.
But Reynolds also emphasized how responding to Harvey “is a long-term game, and we need to help [the victims] today and tomorrow.”
That will mean more than supplies and money for construction and infrastructure; it will require counseling services for victims, unemployment assistance and job training for those who are displaced and those who stay, and other social services designed to help people become self-sustaining after tragedy.
CCFW had a team of 12 case managers working with resettled Hurricane Katrina evacuees for five years.
It’s too soon to know how many will be needed to help those affected by Harvey.
What we do know is that while the waters will recede, the support for the storm victims and their communities cannot.
Texans must commit to putting aside money and time to volunteer for more than the next few months if we are going to help restore all that was lost.
And if they put aside politics and partisanship for the next few years as well, no one would complain.
You can donate to CCFW through its website.