Sitting here in the quiet of the early morning you can hear the birds singing, the gentle breeze rustling through the leaves of a nearby live oak, the hum of a neighbor’s air conditioner compressor, and the early morning pounding of sledgehammers as the home across the street is demoed for recovery from Harvey. It’s the first of September and it’s 72° outside. That’s unseasonably amazing for this time of year. Yet, it’s the mixed blessing of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It’s been a hard juxtaposition of tragedy and tenderness to watch our community work together beyond the boundaries of age, race, nationality, sexual expressions and identities, and even political preferences. As we were working together to rescue people from flooding houses, no one was debating politics, sports or religion. All we cared about was that our neighbors needed help. Our community, as an identity, took preference over every other identity-driven label out there. This is who we are. This is what it means to be human.
Our humanity is strongest when we join hands to overcome the challenges we face. Take any sports team, any military unit, any church committee or any musical group and you’ll have a variety of people whose individuality certainly influences the flavor of the group, but it shouldn’t divide the group. There’s beauty in the diversity but diversity doesn’t have to mean division. I typically officiate a number of weddings every year and while I structure most weddings to be unique to each couple, there’s one section I use in every, single ceremony. There’s a section where I describe the unity of the two joining together to become one. In each ceremony, I typically say the following:
“This is the mysterious math of the Universe. “Universe” is a curious word, a blending of the two words “Diversity” and “Unity”. So it is with the two of you. You shall both remain Two, diverse, yet also joining to be One. Within the One of you, remains the Two still. Your individuality distinguishes you from one another, but it should never separate you from one another.”
Someone once asked me how it’s possible to distinguish two things from each other without separating them. The illustration was simple. I can distinguish my head from my neck, but please don’t let me separate the two. That would be disastrous. There is a strong encouragement in this idea, not only to couples marrying and joining their lives together, but to any community of people whose lives are intrinsically joined together by something as remarkable and powerful as the experiences we’ve had with Harvey. The nation, and perhaps the world, has been watching as they’ve seen pictures and videos of us pulling one another out of the water, repairing homes together, sleeping side by side in shelters together, giving generously over and over and over again. These are powerful experiences, indeed, and it is no hyperbole to say that this is a life-defining moment for our community.
The beauty of it isn’t that we’re changing into something new – but that we’ve found an experience that allows us to rise to who we really are – who we’ve been all along. This isn’t our worst hour, this is our finest moment.
We have a very long road ahead of us, make no mistake. We will have many days when our patience will wear thing, when our attentions become diverted, when our cool exterior will give way to our inner landscape of doubt, worry and stress. And yet, Harvey is a not-so-gentle reminder that we are truly stronger together.
Our identity isn’t defined by who we vote for, the color of our skin, who we love, our nations of origin, or even what or who we worship. Our identity rests in the fact that we are neighbors, we are a united group of people who work together for good. Harvey has proven that, irrevocably. No take backs.
I’ve always been proud of our city. Harvey doesn’t give us a reason to be proud. Harvey simply gave us all a marker, a specific point in time, of perhaps the most widely seen example of why our town deserves the love we have for it.