The Beauty in Hurricane Harvey

Top Left Photo: Volunteer Lydia Almazan had one of the best jobs holding this cutie while mom got the items their family needed at The Red Cross shelter at B.F. Terry High School in Rosenberg. Photo by Lydia Almazan.
Top Center Photo: Pets being rescued by boat. Photo by Marchita Priest.
Top Right Photo: A young volunteer with Father Truong Son Nguyen helping out at St. Laurence Catholic Church. Photo by Myke Toman.

By Dr. Rebecca Deurlein –

You’ve seen the pictures. You’ve heard the reports. You’ve counted the deaths, and you’ve watched a city become an island. But living here, living through it, has become, for me, a life-altering experience. As a writer, I’ve always communicated best through the written word. That’s why I feel the need to tell you, from an insider’s perspective, what it’s like to be a Texan recovering from the nation’s worst hurricane on record.

I am not a native Houstonian, but as Texans like to say, I got here as fast as I could. I have lived in a small town (Roanoke, VA), the City that Doesn’t Hate (Atlanta), the City of Champions (Pittsburgh), the Windy City (Chicago) and now Houston (formerly the Concrete Jungle, now Houston Strong). I’ve loved all of my hometowns for various reasons, but I’m IN LOVE with Texas. Many of my northern friends find this perplexing. I assure them that the way Texas is portrayed to the rest of the world has very little to do with the real Texas, and especially Houston.

Fort Bend County, so hard hit by Harvey, is – get ready – the most diverse county in the nation. Yes, you heard me right. All the way down here in Texas. Minorities are the majority in Fort Bend County, and we represent every color of the rainbow, every religion, every political gradation. Some of us wear cowboy hats and own ranches. Others wear Gucci and run medical practices. Yes, most people own guns, and no, they’re not afraid to use them.

When I first moved to Fort Bend, I was immediately awed and impressed by Texas pride. I’ve never lived anywhere that came close. The Texas state flag flies everywhere and students pledge allegiance to it. The Texas star is on overpasses, engraved in streets, proudly displayed outside people’s homes. Texans don’t blindly accept anything and don’t go along to get along. They’re fiercely independent, take pride in their self-sufficiency and are insulted when outsiders try to infringe on their rights or tell them what to do. The state tag line really should read “Texas: We do whatever the hell we want.”

The dichotomy is that Texans are the most generous, kind, warm people you will ever meet. I’ll challenge anyone on this. But I don’t think I’ll have too many challengers after the world has gotten a glimpse of Fort Bend Texans pulling together in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Micah Moore and Diego Moreno, from Lamar Consolidated ISD’s Arredondo Elementary, cooked meals and brought subs and drinks to Navarro Middle School for Hurricane Harvey evacuees. Photo by Monica Jaramillo.

Harvey was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was days on end of round the clock tornado warnings, sirens and alarms, followed by rescue helicopters, news choppers and ambulances. It was staying awake at night until we couldn’t hold our eyes open another minute, and then waking in fear of what we would find. It was streets that became rivers and the constant thought that you couldn’t leave your house, under any circumstance. That does something to a person, to know you’re trapped. Every time my husband ate something, I’d worry we’d run out of food. Ironically, a week later, all of Houston is lamenting the “Harvey 15,” the 15 pounds each of us gained eating comfort food day after day out of boredom, stress, and well, the need to be comforted.

We experienced Harvey fatigue, an oppressive exhaustion. Television fatigue, where every station broadcasted all Harvey all of the time. Medical fatigue, the knowledge that there wasn’t a single doctor’s office, hospital or ER open should we have a chest pain or injure ourselves in the flood. I’ll never forget watching CNN helicopters over Sugar Land on TV while looking out the window at those same choppers passing over my house. And I’ll never forget the Blackhawk helicopters, flying in pairs, heading to another rescue. It sounded and felt like a war zone.

As a flooded friend of mine said, there are things you want to remember and things you want to forget. He doesn’t want to remember looking up at the ceiling of his family room and seeing the dappled reflection of the motion of water on his floor. He wants to remember that Harvey showed us what friendship and compassion look like. What it means to love your neighbor as yourself. What it’s like to leave your own mess to help those with bigger messes.

Ally Almazan, Haley Rosilez, Elaina Rosilez, Leah Rebecca Almazan and Joshua Rosilez ready to do their part at the Red Cross Shelter at B.F. Terry High School in Rosenberg.

I’ve had a lump in my throat for a week. First from anxiety. Then from fear. Then from devastation. Then from compassion. And now, as the world has reached out to help us and as we have stopped everything to help those around us, the lump in my throat is from joy. Harvey wasn’t just a hurricane. It was an emotional roller-coaster that is still taking us all for a ride.

The beauty after devastation is the greatest beauty of them all. It’s the beauty that reminds us that pain and suffering do pass. That if given the opportunity, most people will step up and help in every way they can, with no concern whatsoever about race, religion, gender or ethnicity. Those things cease to matter, and we find ourselves wondering why they ever did.

I love Fort Bend, but I want to believe that this generosity of spirit extends well beyond our borders. I want to believe that when disaster strikes, the good that comes from it reminds us of the tenacity of the human spirit and the compassion of most hearts. We are Fort Bend Strong. We are Texas Strong. I want to believe we can be America Strong.

But most of all, I want to believe this: That politics, race  and divisiveness can be washed away in the flood that physically devastated but emotionally resurrected not just Houston, not just Texas, but the world.