Still living in Harveyland. Life has gone back to normal: people back to work, football games and homecoming parades, the businesses that didn’t flood are back in business. We’re eating and sleeping and mowing grass and checking Facebook and getting flu shots and buying pumpkins for fall.
But. As many, many people have said and written, it’s not really normal around here, anywhere in southeast Texas, and it won’t be for a long time. I know dozens of families who are living with friends, crowded into other people’s houses, living in hotels halfway across Houston because that was the nearest place available, living in RV’s in their own driveways, living in the second story bedrooms of their own houses. Others are living in houses with bare concrete floors and with sheetrock torn out and possibly mold growing because they have no other place to go.
And then there are the piles. Wherever you drive you see the piles of “trash”, not really trash but rather people’s lives strewn across the front yard or piled neatly into categories on the edge of the front yard. Some people just ripped stuff out and piled it up as fast they could. Others got the “memo” (many days late) that the county and the city preferred that the “trash” be sorted into as many as six different piles: normal household trash, vegetative debris, construction and demolition debris, electronics, appliances, and household hazardous waste.
I passed one house where the first pile I could see was a tower of once-beautiful wooden furniture: a broken dresser, parts of a bed, other odds and ends of furniture and wooden slats and pieces. It was all broken, all wood, all sad. Which of those wonderful categories fit these pieces of a family’s life? It’s certainly not “normal household trash”, not hazardous, not vegetative, not construction debris. How does a person divide the pieces of a home into debris categories, and what do we do with the leftovers?
Yes, we are thankful that so few people lost their lives during Harvey. Yes, we have a great deal of compassion and concern for the people of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands who lost so much more than we did and who are suffering the lack of basic necessities like food and water. But we don’t have time or emotional energy for much more than a quick prayer of gratitude and another of supplication for the needs of those we cannot reach or help before we need to turn back to the task at hand.
The piles are real, but also symbolic. There are piles and piles of needs and wants and tasks to be done here in Harveyland. Those of us who didn’t flood are busy helping those who did, trying to figure out their complicated piles of needs and sort them into some kind of order so that we can get a handle on beginning to meet those needs. It’s messy. Do these people need help now with rebuilding, or is it more important to find them a temporary place to live? If I find a refrigerator or a stove for that family who can’t make meals for themselves, will they have a place to put the appliances? Do the children and teens need to “get back to normal”, or is it important for them to be involved in the work of rebuilding? Or can they do both? How much can I do or should I do to help one particular family when there are so many needs?
Finally, I’ll tell you what I really don’t have time or energy to engage. I don’t care whether the NFL football players stand or kneel or turn cartwheels during the national anthem. I don’t care whether our president supports them or disses them. I don’t care about the newest iPhone. I don’t even care whether Congress repeals or replaces Obamacare or who’s to blame for global warming. Right now I care about the piles and the people behind them and the work that must be done. I care that people are loved and that God is glorified in all of it.
You guys who are not living in Harveyland (or Irmaland or La Tierra de Maria) can worry about all that other stuff. Or you can pray, and give, and come help out here in Houston or in Florida or in Puerto Rico. We’re all going to be dealing with the piles for quite a while.