Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Overwhelming Goodness

It’s been an up and down kind of summer in Atchison County. We’ve had celebrations to commemorate a church’s anniversary and our country’s birthday. We’ve hosted an incredible air show. We’ve played softball, volleyball, baseball, and splashed in the city pools. We’ve gardened and barbequed and chased fireflies. But we’ve also been battling a relentless flood.

On Memorial Day, I learned that water was coming, and that it was going to be “as bad or worse than ’93.” Yikes. Dread, fear and concern began leaking in around the edges of our collective subconscious, but those feelings were secondary to the need to act, and those of us who had something to do were thankful. For two different weeks in June, my office coordinated meals and such for two sandbagging operations, which involved running ice and beverages when needed and spending oodles of time discussing details with volunteers.

For me, those weeks were overwhelming for several reasons. First, it was a different kind of work than I was used to, a constant commotion of thinking talking planning doing, moving from task to task, location to location. Second, it was emotionally difficult to see the water creep into MY county, with every intention of staying for months. It was violating, offensive. Simultaneously, I was overcome with rage and an oppressive feeling of helplessness.

The last kind of overwhelming was yet another reason why I love this place, and why I grew up trusting in the decency of others: good people live here. One day, I would be working with church ladies, veteran women who didn’t flinch when I called at the last minute to say, ‘Um…we’re going to need meals for 75, not 50 like we discussed.” The next day, I would talk to an individual who had purchased enough ingredients to feed an army and was ready with her assembly line of friends to throw sandwiches together at any minute. Another day, a local business volunteered to feed not only one site, but both, and delivered a bbq spread like none other. One day, I couldn’t find enough meals for what we needed, so a busy mom hit the pavement and requested donations from businesses in the area. Those businesses, by the way, were immediately and seriously impacted by the flood – still, they gave.

My work was insignificant compared to what others were taking on. I wasn’t one of the amazing volunteers who lived at the sandbag-filling site every day, physically tying sandbags or helping out behind the scenes wherever needed. I was not one of the people stacking those sandbags on a levee in the unforgiving, unyielding sun. I wasn’t spending hours working with state and federal organizations to make things happen. But still, even I got calls and emails of encouragement from cheerleaders in the community. I built the kind of in-the-trenches friendships that only happen in times of crisis. And I was able to see, day in and day out, the caliber of people that are committed to living here.

It’s been an up and down summer here. We’ve worked and we’ve wept, but we’ve also Lived every time we had the opportunity. We’ve had endless discussions about who caused this flood; it’s an understandable reaction, a need to assign blame and to determine who should be held accountable for this disaster. But personally, I don’t spend much time thinking about that. It's too big, too far out of my control, and it feels almost irrelevant to my focused, 'it's here, now how do we fix it and move forward' mindset. I am concerned about where our county will be on the other side of this – but this summer I have witnessed our citizenry’s capacity for generosity and diligence and hard work, and I know that no matter what comes next, there’s no group of people I’d rather be standing with.


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