Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I get by with a little help from my friends.

What is it about natural disasters that brings out the best in people? It seems almost odd that something tragic and terrible would bring unity and camaraderie among strangers and neighbors (and strange neighbors). Oh sure, there will always—on this side of Heaven, anyways—be people who are exceptions to the majority. But for the most part, people seem to band together in times of need. And it appears natural, second-nature.

I think about the earthquake in Haiti a few months ago. The world responded. I was proud not only to be an American, but simply to be living and breathing right now on this earth. To be part of a universal society that saw an earthquake completely and utterly destroy a nation and chose to act. The world leaders did not look away burying heads in their own problems (and Lord knows we've all got plenty of them), but rather they responded. They cared. They aided.

While there are many tragedies in which this type of behavior has occurred (Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 9/11, Indiana Ocean Tsunami in 2004, etc.), I choose to downscale to more local disasters.

Visiting Spring Hill, Tenn. this past weekend during the torrential downpours and flash flooding that happened in Middle Tennessee reminded me of the floods that hit my home county two years ago. It was the summer of 2008, and I was actually living in Spring Hill at the time. Back home in Southern Indiana, the northern part of my county was being hammered with rain. Daviess County is a very rural, farming community, and many farmers grow crops near the river. As the rain escalated, people began to prepare for flooding. People in the community helped sand-bag areas and evacuate homes, anticipating the levees breaking.

Being more than four hours away and feeling very helpless, I realized there was nothing I could do to other than solicit prayer, which in itself is far more productive than anything I could possibly do. I sent a message to one of my best friends, who, at the time, was doing an internship with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone. (Ironically, he's there again right now working full-time for Mercy Ships.) I told Neil about the flooding going on in the community and asked him to pray for the people there.

A few days later, I received a call from my mom, whose natural enthusiasm was magnified. She told me while several people were out sand-bagging, a big truck showed up with a few men who looked slightly uncertain of what to do. They found a deputy (my uncle), and told him they were from Huntingburg, Neil's hometown about two hours away from mine.

It was the mayor of the city and a few other volunteers. Neil had told his mother about the flooding, who contacted someone, who contacted the mayor. And the mayor decided to find others, drive two hours, and help out some strangers.

So I revisit my first question: What is it about natural disasters that brings out the best in people?

I think natural disasters expose the reality that we are all mortal. There is no differentiation between the rich and the poor, the pretty and the ugly, the confident and the timid. Tornadoes don't avoid the biggest homes. Floods don't recede around homeless camps. In the midst of disasters, all people have is each other. And that, my friends, is beautiful. The acknowledgement that life is about people; that situations and circumstances cannot be controlled; that all you really need is love.

When will we grab hold of that beautiful picture of true unity outside of a disaster and live together in community caring for our brothers and sisters? I look forward to that day.