I don’t know what to call this natural disaster we’ve come through—The Great Storm? The South Carolina Flood? The Deluge of 2015? But whatever name finally sticks, few of us will forget this past weekend.
We’ll remember the sight of washed out bridges and streets so filled with rushing water that they look like rivers. Car tops barely visible above rising waters and helpless figures standing in the gloom watching their homes wash away. Dams bursting. The sound of rain never letting up.
State and local officials haven’t yet had time to start totaling up the cost. They’re too busy trying to save lives and restore utilities. But there’s no question that our state will pay a huge price in dollars and, more significantly, human suffering.
My family was blessed and didn’t have any loss or even much inconvenience. We never lost power. We had no damage except for a few downed tree limbs. By tomorrow I’ll be able to get back to the office and my life will return to normal.
But tomorrow life won’t return to normal for the nine families across the state whose loved ones died. Neither will life return to normal—not quickly, anyway—for the many others who lost houses or cars or businesses. A disaster of this scale and scope leaves visible and invisible scars that will last for years. For some the scars will remain for a lifetime.
In the coming days all of us will look for how we can reach out to the storm’s victims, and there will be lots of ways we can provide practical assistance. But here are a few points to remember early on. I was in Charleston during Hurricane Hugo. I lived in coastal North Carolina for years and went through more hurricanes than I care to think about. From those previous experiences several things stick in my head as I think about how each of us can help.
- Start in your own neighborhood. Check on the people living around you. You may be surprised to learn of need closer than you realize. In every neighborhood there are people who fall off the radar of the governmental agencies in place to provide assistance. So look out for them.
- There are local, private agencies that do a great job of providing food and other essentials to needy people. Since the cost of this kind of disaster falls hard on people with meager resources to begin with, those helping agencies are especially worthy of your support in times like this.
- Our Law Enforcement and Emergency Management people come to the forefront in times like this. They put themselves in danger in order to assist and rescue people affected by the disaster. Without them we couldn’t make it through this level of disaster. With all the negative publicity they’ve received recently in the national press, what better time for all of us to thank them for their selfless service to our community?
- Plug into your church as a way of offering concrete assistance to the storm’s victims. All of our churches have channels for supporting disaster relief efforts, either through denominational structures or partnerships with other ministries. It’s an awesome thing to join with other believers in reaching out to the broken, the wounded and the needy in the name of Jesus. So allow your church to help lead the way in this critical time.
The next few weeks will feel different. On one level, it’s obvious why that’s so. In the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude, our regular routine is shattered and we’re overwhelmed at loss and suffering. Feelings of grief are inevitable. On another level, the reason the coming weeks will feel different is the way a crisis alters our perception. The difference between what’s important and what’s not is suddenly revealed. For instance if a storm destroys my home but my family is saved, my value system quickly changes.
To take the matter one step further, a storm like we’ve experienced has a deeper, more profound impact. Life re-organizes around the experience. In other words, we somehow become different people because of what we’ve experienced. Different in how we relate to one another and different in how we view what we want out of life. Family Systems therapists refer to this kind of experience as a “Nodal Point,” and by that they refer especially to family events like births, marriages and deaths—those moments in family life that alter our former patterns of living and lead to a clearer, truer sense of self. That’s true for us as individuals as well as for our communities and state as a whole.