It finally got to me. The craziness of the last few days–the Boston bombing, the explosion in West, the building collapse in Bangladesh, another rape case in India–suddenly became a little too much to bear. I tried to distract myself by switching on the television, but every channel had the same scene, the same story…no escape!
I consider myself a strong person, but during the past few days, I found my heart heavy and my mind restless. I did not scream like I usually do when a Cougar team drops a close game. I did not go to my exercise class. I did not stop to notice heron nesting in trees when I walked my dog. I even bought a donut to eat.
I opened old photo albums and tried to watch old DVDs, something I often do when feeling a little down. And I came across some footage from Hurricane Ike and some photos from what transpired after it. I had been in Houston only for a few months. Having lived in Florida for 25 years, I was not new to hurricanes, but then I had never seen a hurricane that left a city paralyzed to the extent Houston was in September of 2008.
Unlike most of the city, where there was no electricity and running water, our campus had both. So we decided to open our doors. Hundreds of volunteers–students, staff and faculty–rose to the occasion and manned the city’s largest POD (Point of Distribution) on campus. They filled thousands of relief bags with basic necessities and handed them out to neighbors in need. I was amazed to see how our students redesigned the distribution process so twice as many people could be served within the same time frame.
All you could see was red everywhere. Someone had brought out hundreds of red UH t-shirts that they had ordered for another event. People from the community came to charge their cellphones, get hot food, or simply to get some water. Our library and the University Center had turned into day-time shelters for those in need.
We lost 25% of the trees on campus. While some of us were mourning this loss, others got their kids and families out to the campus to clear the debris. Yet others went in the surrounding neighborhoods to help homeowners clear their driveways. Many staff members spent twelve hours a day making sure that campus could serve its civic mission. Many cleaned their homes and then came to campus to supervise students. Many had lost their own roofs and came to campus to use a computer, but then stayed around to lend a helping hand.
Yes, we could have easily kept the campus closed. Yes, we could have easily stayed home and watched television. Yes, we could have easily stayed home and read in candlelight. But that is not what Cougars chose to do in the aftermath of the hurricane. They stood tall in the time of crisis and became a part of the recovery. They served selflessly and taught others by example. I received emails from students two, three and even four years after the hurricane telling me how transformative that experience had been for them.
Holding those photos and thinking of those days brought instant peace to my heart. It made me realize that the world is not just filled with horrific disasters, senseless sufferings, and heartless acts. It is also endowed with kindness, selflessness, courage, and resilience. The worst of the crises bring out the best in us. We saw it in Boston and we saw it in West.
My heart felt light. The weight had been lessened. I put on my running shoes, looked at that donut and threw it in the trash can.