You’ve seen the images, the constant loop of video showing a man raised from a house, clinging to his daughter in one hand and a garbage bag in the other.
You’ve seen the young man from Normangee strapping his john boat to a trailer he borrowed from his cousin to drive down I-45 as far as he could make it, just to see if he could pull another daughter from a flooded home.
You’ve seen the deputy on TV – the one who could barely catch his breath while unloading one family to set out for another trapped in filthy water.
This is what Houston looked like on Saturday, August 26, 2017. It’s what we looked like on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s what we will look like for another week, another month, another year. Even when the waters disappear, you’ll find tragedy and destruction resting viciously at the feet of fathers who can’t help, mothers who can’t watch, and children who would like to click their heels back to last week, last month, last year.
The senses of the past week will repeat in our minds forever. We won’t forget the gurgling sound water makes as it inches toward our homes. We’ll remember the sharp smell of trees toppled and roots exposed. We’ll remember how heavy it feels when we’re standing at the back of our homes, sweeping water away from the back door, as cold rain relentlessly pulls at our shirt.
As I collect thoughts from the past week – and I’ll collect them for a long time – what I’ll remember most is not the water or its demolition. I won’t remember which intersections flooded and which ones stood dry.
What I’ll remember are the men and women who walked straight into the eye of a storm.
Every person who wears a civil uniform for a living left a husband or a wife or a child to rescue strangers. We know of one Houston Police officer who lost his life.
But if our hired first-responders had been left to save this city on their own, the death tolls would have climbed to numbers we cannot imagine.
The uniforms I’ll remember just as much were the ones in camouflage. These were duck-hunting coveralls transformed into rescue gear. They had hats turned backwards, a quick smoke just in sight of the camera lens and a spotlight used for freezing deer in the early winter. It didn’t matter who or what needed saving, these heroes came in flocks to salvage our city.
And the totality of that heroism demands perspective. It demands that the people who would turn our wonderful nation into a band of hated rivals be held accountable right here, right now.
Americans do not hate each other. From the Revolution to August 26, 2017, we will die for each other. We have spent nearly 240 years bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things for each other. And regardless of what you’ve been told by blabbering ratings mongers, the love Americans have for each other has never failed.
If you missed that in the horror of Harvey, you have been blinded by a force that wants nothing more than another news clip of neo-Nazis. That is not who we are.
You’ve been told that professional athletes only care about whether to kneel or stand during a two-minute song. No, most professional athletes can’t decide how much money they want to donate to help Houstonians in need. And if a tragedy hits another city at another date, they’ll be right there again, writing more checks to more people.
You’ve been told that law enforcement officers are selfish men and women who can’t restrain themselves from attacking the minorities in this country. No, most law enforcement officers in this nation are just like Sgt. Steve Perez, the man who died trying to report for rescue. And the next time one of our citizens needs saving, people like Perez will demand to be the first in line.
You’ve been told that the only politicians that matter are the ones who fight on Sunday morning network news shows. No, they are not. The politicians that matter are Sylvester Turner and Ed Emmett. These two men could have cared less whether you voted for them in the last election. They only cared about saving our city when our city needed saving.
You’ve been told that you must pledge your allegiance to a political party. No, that is not true. When a Hispanic man jumped in the water to save a white girl, did anyone ask for a party registration card?
Friends, when Houston was at its worst, this entire nation was (and still is) at its best.
We have been fooled for the past year – for the past decade – into believing that the only thing that matters in our nation is which lever we pull at a ballot box. Stop it.
Maybe it took tragedy to find triumph. Maybe we needed devastation to discover decency.
When the storm waters clear and our lives retreat into our own little nooks, don’t forget what Houston looked like on August 26, 2017. That is our nation. This is who we are.