A year after we moved to Houston, my husband and I experienced our first hurricane frenzy. Hurricane Rita, on the heels of the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, caused a great deal of damage on and near the Texas/Louisiana border. A few days before landfall, however, the track had veered closer to Houston.
That’s when we learned how hard it is to evacuate a 4 million-person city that everyone wants to escape. We boarded our windows, bided our time, and on Friday, left to stay with friends in Austin.
At a gas station along the way, we stopped for a bit to let our dog stretch his legs. The radio picked up a station in Austin. All the talk was about was the upcoming Austin City Limits festival and how amazing it would be.
We were dumbfounded.
The two cities were three hours apart but a world away in their concerns.
This time it was a large swath of Texas in the same boat. Record low temperatures in much of the state and the failure of the power grid for up to three days left people cold, scared, and consumed with any information they could gather about what would happen next. More than 30 people died in Texas because of the storm.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, life continued. A scroll down my social media feed showed kids’ accomplishments and fun outings, as well as the latest memes.
I don’t hold it against people. You are either inside or outside the bubble as circumstance dictates.
And the reasons why our own world gets smaller during calamitous events is the same one, I imagine, that narrows people’s field of vision when someone they love dies, or they are faced with a serious illness.
There are not that many people who understand what you are going through. The few who do are people you hold close.
During Hurricane Ike in 2008, my neighborhood was my world. Those were people with whom we shared resources and traded help during the two weeks we all went without power.
And apart from the 90+ degree day my husband was grilling frozen chicken tetrazzini before it could go bad — and I wanted to puke every second because I was newly pregnant with my daughter, those were the people who made it bearable.
I didn’t need to see back-to-school photos or hear people kvetching about anything else. To me, we were the center of misery.
In the aftermath of this particular ordeal, I thought about what I want to take away from the experience.
Aside from trying to understand what happened and what the state might do to prevent it from happening again — I want to work to be more aware of others who are in their own bubble.
Be it fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, or some other internal storm, there are ways to offer tangible comfort. That could mean anything from a monetary donation to a meal drop, or a simple reaching out to acknowledge what’s happening to a friend or loved one.
I also have to remind myself that not everyone gets to move on at the same speed from any kind of disaster. And in many cases, the mess just makes someone’s bad situation worse. The challenge for me is to really see that suffering in my own backyard, and most importantly, do something about it.
Fortunately, there are always people to show me the way.