Houston, My Heart

I’ve just opened up my laptop for the first time in a week. I click on the open document I left unfinished from last Thursday: a drafted blog post telling a story about how I’d managed to lose a chunk of my left pinky finger while attempting to fix the mower on the same day that a thunderstorm pushed through that knocked a tree into a fence by the donkey’s shelter, forcing me to scramble in the rain to get them herded to safety. I was describing how some weeks are just “off” and how it’s important not to lose our cool even when we lose parts of our fingers, but I never finished that post because Thursday evening is when the forecasters were beginning to realize the potential damage that would be coming to my hometown in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

My parents and much of my extended family live in Houston as do many of my dearest friends and the majority of my heart, and so as we woke up Friday morning to a much more certain fate, I decided to pack some of my tools (tree trimmer, buckets, rubber boots etc) and drive down in my rickety red pickup truck to Houston to be with my parents in the event damage would occur at their home.

There weren’t many people going southbound on Friday afternoon—even the road signs were advising drivers to avoid the area—so the drive back home to Houston was an eerie one. I shared the road with fleets of tree trimmers and 18-wheelers and when I finally made it to my parent’s house, we all embraced knowing that we were in for something big.

I was raised in the gulf coast region. We know hurricanes. We know what it means to hunker down and how to respect the tropics because they certainly demand it, so as Harvey pushed ashore Friday night, we stayed up watching the live radar and sending our love to Port Lavaca, Corpus Christi, Rockport, and so many of the coastal towns that were hit with the hurricane’s most intense force. As Friday night turned Saturday, we in northwest Houston only saw rain and an increasing number of tornado warnings, so we spent our time trimming branches and moving/tying down outside objects that could fly in tornadic winds. We kept the best contact we could with our friends and family all over the gulf coast area and as Saturday turned to Sunday, we started to see Harvey’s rainfall effects pretty dramatically in our area.

The water from the nearby creek began to rush and swell out over its banks, threatening the neighborhood where my parents live and by Sunday evening, the roads were impassable, even by trucks. We moved the valuables from the first floor of my parent’s house to the second floor as we saw the water rise up over the curb and into the yard. As the evening turned to night, we just watched and waited.

To our surprise and gratitude, my parent’s house managed to stay dry on the inside that night and so as the sun came up on a rainy Monday, my dad and I took our respective pickup trucks out into the neighborhood to see if there was anything we could do to help those whose homes were now and quickly becoming underwater. I’ll not go into too much detail, but I ended up spending Monday and Tuesday out, mostly at and around the nearby volunteer fire department, doing anything and everything I could to lend a hand along side dozens of others to an area becoming increasingly more inundated with rising water.

It’s Thursday now and I’ve come back to north Texas…to King Ranch, Little Foot, and my donkeys, and I just keep staring out the front window at the grass that needs to be cut by the mower that’s still broken. My thoughts are swirly and blurry and so sad for my hometown where I grew up and became an adult; where I graduated from college (go coogs!), had relationships, adventures, late nights, long walks, and even longer talks. I think about the freeways where I’d drive too fast to work downtown or to memorial park for a jog on the trails, or to the yoga studio where I taught my very first yoga class and how I now know what all of that looks like under water.

And it’s still unfolding down there, y’all. There are areas where the water is still rising. I just…I just can’t wrap my head around the past week and my family and me didn’t even have it bad like so many thousands of people.

Here’s what I’m desperately trying to hold onto and what I hope emerges from all of this: we are one. The two days that I spent out giving a hand, I encountered hundreds—literally hundreds—of people who left the safety of their own homes to come out in the pouring rain and uncertain circumstances to help…to do anything they could for complete strangers. People came out with hot food, supplies, tools, energy, high water vehicles, boats, canoes, kayaks, air mattresses and anything they could because that’s just who Houston is: a city of givers. I got to meet some of the Cajun Navy and I’ll tell you that none of them were afraid to risk it all to save someone in need.

By the time we were wrapping things up on Tuesday, shelters were turning away volunteers and donations because within only a couple of days there was that much of an outpouring of love for our community.

As person after person climbed down or was lifted down from those military trucks in the cold rain flying in sideways, there were no politics. There was no religion. There was no division. There wasn’t anyone trying to have the most intellectual comment or most profound opinion or any sort of snobbery. There were only hands that held each other tightly, infants passed delicately and met with dry blankets to be wrapped in, kisses on cheeks and wet pets on leashes eager to be held and told it was going to be okay. There were people searching for their loved ones and even more people trying to help them reunite. There were children, wide-eyed and brave: one child, I remember, with her pet hedgehog quivering in a plastic pitcher who still took the time to say “thank you” when someone offered her family a ride. There was no room anything but preserving life. There was safety and love and support and a coming together that proves that as humans, we are one: we are made of love.

We were all human out there and we all…I mean we ALL…had each other.

I can’t imagine what so many families have in their future as a result of this storm but I am so hopeful that this strength in community continues as strongly as it did this week—that people will continue to volunteer their time and effort and resources to help those in need because the need is enormous. I hope, so badly, that we continue to come together to lift each other up in this. To embrace each other, to clothe and feed one another, to not pass judgement and to be kind simply because we’re all human experiencing something that I’m not sure we’re equipped to truly understand and in that, at least we know we’re not alone.

If you have been turned away from a shelter in the last couple of days because they’re at capacity with volunteers and/or supplies, please go back next week and then the next because for so many, this is long term. This won’t be yesterday’s news for thousands of people for a very long time and they need all the help they can get.

Texas, and more specifically Houston, I love you. You’ll always be my home. I love the people that are still living in you—the people who are working around the clock to make you better. I love that you’ve brought out the best in people in the worst of times. I love your diversity, your creativity, your art, your music, your complexity and your heart.

If you have the means to do so, please consider donating to help rebuild our gulf coast—there are many ways to do so. Here’s a place to start: Here’s How You Can Help People Affected By Harvey – via NPR.

And on a personal note, I want to thank the Cypress Creek Volunteer Fire Department for everything that they did for northwest Houston. I got to see first hand how hard and diligently they worked to save over 2,000 people from rising waters and I am in awe of every one of them. And to the team that I had the honor of working with: Andy, Michael, Reed, Michelle, Debbie, Erica, Ken, Robin, Otto, Tim, Jaime, Dean, Jack, Bree, Bill, Kristen, Ryan and gosh, if I forgot anyone, please know I remember your faces and your vehicles and I’m so grateful for all of you. 

There’s nowhere else out in the world like Houston. We are Houston Strong.

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2 thoughts on “Houston, My Heart

  1. Jess, you’re such a hero — one of many thousands. Thank you for sharing your experience for those of us not privileged to have the opportunity to do what you did. If I didn’t have a broken leg, I may have joined you in this effort, but alas I need to stay in the high desert and give whatever money we can afford. I began by donating to the Texas Nurses Association who are pitching in with nurse volunteer efforts.

    Your blog is always a breath of honest, heartfelt, fresh air. It’s one of the few that comes to my personal inbox.

    Much love and hugs from me, Mary (10th generation Texan), and George the cat here in Santa Fe, NM.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your words. How is your leg doing? That’s wonderful that you’ve donated to the Texas Nurses Association. Nurses are the real heroes every single day. Many of my in-laws are nurses and I have such respect for what they do.

      I hope you get healed up real quick! Much love from all of us ❤️

      Like

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