Being a young couple that has made a habit of relocating around the country for assignments, my husband and I knew that we would adapt well to a coastal flip. This move was going to be different though. We had cross country travel down to a science with our caravanning canines, but this 3,000 mile transition included our 2-year-old son. Our son, born in California, presents as a smart, outgoing, adaptable dude so we had little concern. What we didn’t realize was that in an eight week period, we would have exposure to two of our country’s most extreme conditions.
California’s historic drought crept slowly. We grew accustomed, as the years passed, to golden hills and volcano chains. We barely noticed when gold turned to brown. On our neighborhood walks, we watched Laguna Lake, in San Luis Obispo, reduced to a puddle.
At one point, the combination of sediment build-up and devastating drought forced the city to remove hundreds of decomposing carp. The smell of the decaying fish was awful. This was a small scale issue compared to the wildlife affected by the many widespread and difficult to contain fires that have raged across California. However, the lake was figuratively in our backyard, so for us it was a constant reminder of the state’s dire condition. It was surreal to watch people walk across what had become dry land with metal detectors. Water bans and restrictions are fairly common place across the map, but in California it wasn’t uncommon to find a town completely without access to water.
South Carolina’s flood rapidly swept in this past weekend. The rain poured down with a vengeance. Within days many were forced from their homes. Local dams were breached, cars were swept away and businesses were reduced to saturated structures. Approximately 1,000 South Carolina residents are living in shelters and thousands more are without water. Local people are lacking basic necessities, as have hundreds of thousands of displaced victims in California.
My family has remained safe and healthy. These two blessings are easily taken for granted, but quickly become a priority the second that either privilege is threatened. There are families who lose their loved ones regularly, for long spans to fighting wildfires. There are law enforcement officials who rush into deep, moving water to rescue people stranded on the tops of cars, their bravery equal to fire officials running toward blazing infernos to bring survivors to safety. There are good samaritans, who often without training or thought for their own safety perform miracles. There are first responders who never return home. There is despair in the eyes of people who have lost everything. There are people desperately mourning the loss of their spouse, parent, sibling … child. There are communities drawing near to one another in times of scarcity, sharing what they have without hesitation and there are people offering support even if all they have is a listening ear or a hand to hold.
My husband and I have been given the opportunity to see others through an altered lens. We believe there is value in spending time talking to strangers and learning from their experiences. We’ve seen differences strengthen communities. It is possible to learn from one another, to gracefully accept help and extend it, to know that when we are weak our neighbor is strong.
Disasters are inevitable. Tragedy will always be a part of our story. Natural disasters, more than anything else, have a way of bringing people together. They remind us that we are one human race. We are united in helplessness, not by an act of someone’s violence, but by calamity which is beyond the control of any human being. It is solely in these times, when there is no energy directed toward blame, that we are able to remember that we are all only human. We are all so very much alike. Imagine spending half of the vitality that our culture wastes in strife, quarreling about heritage, politics, and religious practice, on the groups of people who need life breathed into them. Imagine what our country could do for itself… for the world.
Why am I so grateful that my son has been in such close proximity to catastrophe? Well, I think the only way we can give our children the caliber we desperately desire to see in the world is to teach them to take any opportunity they can to practice kindness. I was a sheltered, entitled person before I started getting out and living in new areas. I think fondly of Henry Miller’s quote, “One’s destination is not a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
My son and I ventured out the other morning to his music lesson. We were detoured four times in our new city because sections of Columbia are absolutely devastated. We talked about all of the people who cannot be in their homes. For me, it was traveling on a bridge over the Saluda River in Columbia and seeing its unbelievably high water level that really stopped my thoughts in their tracks. Extreme conditions are an appropriate metaphor for the way people feel when faced with adversity. Struggles weigh heavily while life feels incredibly delicate.
We shopped at the Kroger for what are usually considered rather mundane items, but for the woman in need of feminine pads or the man who hasn’t shaved for days, our family hopes that pads and razors will be small reminders that people care. My son helped choose some light-up toothbrushes for kids who need them. I have to say, watching him add the package to the other boring items and delight in saying, “Tim giving to some children!” made me smile. These were, after all, much cooler than his toothbrush.
We pulled up to donate at the new church we’re attending, when the volunteer heard Tim exclaim from his car seat, “Want to go in church! Tim can help!” With the exchange of our knowing glances, she waited with the donation cart and I parked to get him out. That little boy helped push the donation cart through the halls and I realized that instead of feeling proud, I felt peace. I got a glimpse of the gentleman that I expect my son to be. It’s great to be smart, adaptable, and outgoing. It doesn’t hurt to be cute, but kindness … well, that’s where it’s at.
Victoria Tyman and her husband, Jordan, are blessed to have called most of the major regions of this beautiful country, home. For Victoria, being a full-time Mom is both a career and hobby, in one. She writes during extended naps to kill time, when the house is clean. Her dogs are rescues that she fell in love with on Petfinder.com. Originally from New England, she enjoys coastal life and exploring outdoors. No matter where her family is living, they root for Boston teams (Go Bruins!). She does less animal welfare work, in the trenches, these days but seizes as many opportunities as possible to strengthen awareness and respect for creatures both great and small. Victoria was a nanny for many years, as well as a Sunday school teacher and loves volunteering as a guide for kids at nature preserves.