Hope in Community

snow 2017

It’s been almost a year since I posted to this blog. It’s Advent season, however, and a few dear readers have let me know they are revisiting Waiting for Jesus.  I am truly flattered and inspired to return to this space.  Thank you, friends.

 

Optimism isn’t my strength.  I don’t consider myself a pessimist, but I’m pretty good at imagining a worst-case scenario or completely overlooking the silver lining.  Of all the Advent themes, HOPE is the most difficult for me to generate.  But hope floats.

Besides fire, I can’t think of anything less stoppable than water.  With a year’s worth of rain falling in a short, five-day period, Houstonians watched helplessly as the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey rose in every direction.  Homes, businesses, even lives were washed down the drain like last night’s bathwater.  But hope floats.

Before the rain had time to slow down, the heroes of hope began to emerge.  Anyone with a tall truck or a jon boat sprang into action and began moving people out of the water and onto dry ground.  Before long, our Louisiana neighbors came with their boats, and others flocked in from states even farther away.  Because hope floats.

First responders, city officials, and news crews worked around the clock with little time for food or rest.  Celebrities, sports heroes, even presidents raised money to help rebuild once the storm was over.  When people feel supported, hope floats.

Schools, churches, convention centers, even a furniture store housed people who had no other dry place to stay.  Donations of food and clothing poured in.  A few folks complained, but most spoke of their gratitude for safety, shelter, and basic needs met.  Hope floats.

Once the water receded and clean up began, everyone pitched in: the kid next door, the relatives from across town, the church people from all over the country.  Neighborhoods looked like war zones with debris piles as far as the eye could see.  Cleaning products, sheetrock, trustworthy contractors, and other necessities were in short supply.  Hope bubbles just below the surface sometimes, but it always floats again.

For days, there was no regular television programming, only news coverage with constant weather reports and seemingly endless video of displaced people, devastated homes, and submerged landscapes.  It was difficult to watch, yet impossible to turn off.  Houston has always been known as a large city with a small-town personality, but watching so many helpers, living in such close quarters, and sharing so many meals took our sense of community to “a whole ‘nother level.”  We even decided to alter the way we capitalize the name of our city, hoUSton, if only for a while.  When times are tough again (I hope it won’t be any time soon), hope will float up on a capital US.

Sometimes hope floats so high it spills over leaving extra that can inspire a World Series win or be loaded into a plane and sent to far-away places like Puerto Rico.  Hope floats, but it also flies.

Things are returning to normal for many.  Some will continue to rebuild their homes and lives for months or even years.  Some, particularly those who lost loved ones, will learn to live with a new “normal.”  My prayer is that the rest of US will continue to help and not become complacent in the comfort of our normality.  Hope floats, but it can always use a boost.

There was snow in Houston yesterday.  Social media was filled with pictures of children playing in the snow, dogs playing in the snow, a 290-pound defensive end playing in the snow.  The city was energized and more beautiful than we have seen it in a long time.  Hope floats down from the sky in fluffy white flakes.

It finally feels like Christmas.

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That Kind of Guy

dino flowers

I went to a celebration of life for Jim last week.  I called him Jim, but he was also known as Jimmy or Pop.  Sometimes, when his wonderfully wacky wife instigated shenanigans, he was known as “Poor Jim.” Though it was used often, it was a momentary label.  Everyone knew how much he adored her, even in her wackiness.  Especially in her wackiness.  He was that kind of guy.

Twice, when I had propane problems, Jim volunteered to come over and relight my water heater.  I knew how to do it.  I had done it before.  He insisted, though.  He was a volunteer firefighter, and said he’d rather light it for me than have to come put out the fire if something went wrong.  He brought the family along, and we got to visit.  It was something we didn’t do nearly enough.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he would have come to help out even if there was no danger at all.  You see, he was just that kind of guy.

Jim’s wife once got it in her head that we could get rich making a grown-up version of Underoos with celebrities instead of superheroes and cartoon characters.  With a little help from Google Images and some iron-on transfer paper, I created a “prototype.”  We laughed.  A lot.  Jim laughed at least as much as we did.  When his friends found out about it, they all laughed too.  Because he was that kind of guy with that kind of friends.

At the memorial service, when no one was looking, the grandkids’ toy dinosaurs managed to attack and destroy a flower arrangement.  We can’t really be sure how it happened, but it’s no wonder.  Those dinosaurs were herbivores, after all.  Grown-ups could have been mad.  Grandkids could have been in trouble.  Neither was the case, however.  The messy arrangement remained throughout the service.  One dinosaur stood guard while the other tried to sleep off an over indulgence in mums and greenery.  It was a welcome bit of humor in the midst of great sadness.  Pop would have laughed the most.  That’s what a grandpa does when he’s that kind of guy.

As all things do in this social media age, word of Jim’s death appeared on Facebook.  Several people offered condolences and prayers for the family, but one comment read, “I will pray for your community.”  This person understood that grief would not, could not, be contained within a family.  It would engulf an entire town.  That’s the way it is when you lose that kind of guy.

Finding Community

I’ve been calling myself a writer for less than a month now.  To tell the truth, I feel more like a poser than a writer.  Just say you’re a writer, and POOF, you’re a writer?  Surely it’s not that simple, though I suppose other people have found acceptance anointing themselves with labels much more controversial than “writer.”  To give myself a better sense of belonging, I have attempted to participate in activities with other writers, the kind who actually publish works, earn money, provide instruction, and the like.

Today, hoping to feel more a part of the writing community, I participated in Automattic’s online “wwwp5k.”  This worldwide event is taking place this week, October 26th through November 1st with writers and other creative types charting their own courses then blogging and sharing photos of their experiences.  Here’s mine:

I had originally planned to stage my personal 5K at the beach this weekend, but the combination of an altered work schedule and a soggy forecast convinced me to take advantage of today’s amazing fall weather closer to home.  I decided to take my usual route at a local jogging track.  I walk there sometimes, rarely thinking much about what I see or hear, but today was different.  Today I needed to see through the eyes of others, listen with the ears of others who wouldn’t be present themselves.

The mile markers at this track are a collection of boulders mounted in concrete with metal plaques to label the type of rock and the distance from the starting point.  I’m not sure how this idea came about, but I imagine a local geology professor with these enormous specimens in his garage.  Then I imagine his wife, less fond of the rocks than he is.  Maybe he chose to donate them to share his knowledge and passion and to make peace at home.  Maybe not, but it’s a good story.

rock marker

Like many tracks, this one surrounds playing fields for various sports: soccer, baseball, softball, even ultimate Frisbee.  It’s fall now, however, and this is Texas, which can mean only one thing: football!  The stands are filling with parents, grandparents, and siblings who have come to cheer on these tiny NFL hopefuls.  Loud music blasts from the speakers, but even so I hear the coach bark into the huddle, “Gentlemen, I will not tolerate losing today!  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir!” they respond in unison.  I feel intimidated, threatened even, but they seem to take it as just another part of the game.  I continue my walk wondering how I might have responded to that kind of “encouragement” at age 8.  I’m pretty sure I would have cried.

fans    football

On the far side of the football field, toddlers play on the “Big Toy.”  They spin, slide, and swing showing off their physical prowess to proud parents who stand at the ready just in case.  A man passes by with his German shepherd on his way to the dog park.  Walkers, runners, and joggers approach me from behind, pass, and are gone.  On most days I keep up a little better, but today I am busy capturing images on my phone and in my mind.

big toy

I meet a friend walking the opposite way on the track.  Normally we would stop briefly and chat, but today she is talking on the phone, so we just wave.  I stop to check on the community garden.  Flowers bloom, and vegetable plants are laden with peppers and cucumbers.

peppers more peppers

I take the fork in the track that circles a pond where I stop to watch a stack of turtles lounging on a wooden platform.  They seem oblivious until I take their picture.  Once they notice me, they leave their perch, one by one, diving into the murky water.  I feel bad for disturbing them.  The last part of the track leads me across a small bridge then past the statue honoring a hometown hero.

N Ryan statue

This hometown isn’t mine.  I consider myself a visitor here.  On this day, however, while trying to make my way into one community, it seems I have found my place in another.

shadow

As I approach my “finish line,” the sun has begun to set behind me.  My shadow is long and narrow, two words that would not normally describe me.  In the distance I hear the football announcer.  The home team has scored a touchdown and the extra point.  There is more loud music and plenty of cow bell.  Everyone is happy.  Except maybe the turtles.