My heart is breaking. For the last two days, as I’ve watched Hurricane Harvey’s wrath and subsequent flooding rock my home state, I have gone from utter disbelief to despair. The south Texas coastal areas and Houston are unrecognizable. Each time I see an image or watch a video or hear a story of the total devastation to an area I love so much, I can’t help but cry. It hits too close to home. Way too close.
These people affected are my people. My friends, my family, my former students and their families. I read about how my friends have lost their homes to the floods that are unrelenting, how they have had to seek higher ground in their attics and break out onto their roofs and be rescued by helicopters and boats, and my heart breaks a little bit more. I see photos and videos of the place I called home for six years under water, and my heart breaks a little bit more. I think about the children who are scared, unsure of what’s going on and why this could possibly happen to them, and my heart breaks a little more. I am overcome with grief as I see people lose everything, only able to take what they can carry, and my heart breaks a little more. I’m not sure how much more it can break, yet I know the pain I’m experiencing is nothing compared to those who are living it first-hand, seeing their lives turned upside down in a matter of hours, praying that the worst is over, only to find out that it’s not.
Being so far away, I feel helpless. I can’t help people. I can’t comfort them, hug them, cook them a meal, provide them a safe place to stay, or cry with them. I want to though. I wish I could take away their pain. I wish I could make the rain stop. I wish I could be there to help them pick up the pieces of their lives and tell them it’s going to be okay. But I can’t do any of those things. The only thing I can do is continue to pray for them, sending them love and light and strength and courage to overcome the most difficult situation most have ever had to face. I can donate money to the relief efforts, supporting those first-responders who are fighting to save as many people as they can. I can make people aware of the devastation facing my home state and the incredible people of Texas, in hopes that they, too, can offer support. I can tell my friends and loved ones that I’m thinking of them, loving them, and sending them all the strength in the world. But is that enough?
Seeing this horrific tragedy unfold brings back memories of my time in Clear Lake (Houston), when Hurricane Ike hit our area. I can vividly remember the fear I experienced when I found out that we were in the path of the storm. Packing up to evacuate to Bryan, where I’d stay with my parents, was surreal. Part of me knew that it was the right thing to do, but part of me didn’t really believe it would actually happen. If you haven’t experienced a natural disaster like this before, you don’t really think it could happen to you. That is, until it does.
Being away for nearly two weeks after Ike made landfall, I returned home to a place I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t believe what had happened, and seeing it first-hand broke my heart. I was one of the lucky ones. I had very little damage done to my home, and it didn’t take long for me to get power back. But my friends and my students weren’t so lucky.
I can remember walking through the neighborhood nearest my school in Seabrook with tears streaming down my face. Homes and cars ruined. Families trying to salvage what little they could. Toys, clothes, and furniture strewn through their yards. And the smell. Weeks of being under water and a total loss of power created a smell of mildew and rotting food that knocked the wind out of me. I’ll never forget that.
At Bay Elementary, we were lucky to have stayed dry, as we were able to provide a safe place for kids during the day to play with their friends, eat a hot meal, and get away from the chaos that engulfed them at home. My fellow teachers and my principal were amazing. We banded together to help out our community, and it felt good to know we were helping.
After the initial shock of the hurricane passed, the aftereffects were felt all year. They weren’t there all the time, but they were there, hiding just below the surface, ready to bubble over at a moment’s notice. Writing workshop was where I saw the biggest effects. Writing opens us up, makes us raw, exposes what’s inside our hearts, and reveals our deepest fears. Reading my young writers’ words as they tried to process their pain and loss was a knife to the heart.
As I sit here tonight, with a heavy heart, my hope is this. I hope that the rain subsides, providing much-needed relief to the people of Texas. I hope that the goodwill and love already being shown by so many people and organizations continues to be poured onto those who have been affected by this tragedy. I hope that people come together to rebuild their lives. I hope that despite this horrific disaster, people are able to find peace. Maybe that’s through helping someone else, maybe it’s through reflecting on the things that really matter, or perhaps, like me and my students, it’s through writing.
Sending the people of Texas, my family, my friends, my former students, and the first responders love. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. We are praying.