On October 14 of last year, I posted this memory of the Thousand Year Flood in my personal blog “Random Connect Points.” As the one year anniversary draws close, I wanted to share these words as a testimony to the strength of our Midlands community. I hope you all are encouraged.
I Watched it From Afar
I flew out for a long-anticipated trip Italy with three friends the first week of October. We took off on a Wednesday thankful to leave behind the impending hurricane warnings and paid little attention to the flash flood alerts for Columbia.
Little did we know we would spend the better part of our trip watching international news reports showing deadly floods sweeping away friends’ homes and devastating our hometown.
We stayed glued to international news feeds. We watched our friends’ usual social media posts about kids’ activities become hourly missives of who needed help where. One friend showed up in a yellow raincoat on international CNN. Yet another was interviewed on the Weather Channel. National news correspondents broadcast from neighborhoods where just days earlier I’d been riding my bike.
For several days, I struggled with finding right word to describe what I kept seeing and hearing from the people back home affected by the flooding.
A recollection of an experience this summer prompted me to find the right word . . .
A couple of days after the Emmanuel Nine shooting in Charleston, I happened upon an impromptu prayer vigil on the State House grounds. I was hot and sweaty from a bike ride so I stood on the periphery of the group that started out as mostly college-age African American students.
Within just a few minutes, the group swelled with people from all walks of life who were drawn toward the crowd the same way I was. I soon found myself pulled into a prayer circle while holding hands with two strangers and singing Amazing Grace.
Standing there in that circle of strangers sharing sadness and hope, I realized that grace was amazing in this situation.
…grace shown by the shooting victims’ families as they talked of forgiveness without strings…grace as they courageously explained how their loved ones wouldn’t want them to live with malice or hate in their hearts…grace in encouraging others to do the same.
In Italy as my friends and I watched street after street of our hometown being washed away, I realized it was grace we were witnessing over and over again. Grace was the young mother who wanted to find and thank the strangers who rescued her family knowing she had lost everything. Grace was the teenager who was evacuated from his own home but went back to help others escape theirs. Grace was the rescuer who treated family pets with the same care and respect as the people he was carrying from their home.
In the hours and days following the flood, news stories out of Columbia could have been of our first responders dealing with looting and crime or people with a “poor us, it’s not fair” attitude. Social media posts from families who lost everything could have leveled blame or complained about their plight.
But there was none of that. It was pure grace.
Within hours, people dealing with flooded basements that would have been a major issue just days earlier were out helping strangers find clothes, water and lost pets. Teens were trekking from house to house in the devastated neighborhoods helping any way they could. Children were delivering water, home baked cookies and encouraging messages to first responders.
We heard people who lost everything say over and over…”we will rebuild….others weren’t as lucky as we were.” “My family is safe and that’s all that matters.” They weren’t whining about why this happened to them. They weren’t blaming or complaining. They were in a place of grace.
While everyone’s faith and courage to communicate that grace originated from their own hearts and experiences, our community showed a common humanity that was humbling and inspiring to watch from afar. Everyone became part of something bigger. I have no doubt that this generosity of spirit will be what gets our hometown through the struggle of recovery from this storm.
*On October 5, I will be participating in a live-stream conversation with a couple other community advocates to discuss the “year of the flood,” which will be available on the Midlands Anchor Facebook page and website. I hope you’re able to tune in.