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Hurricane Harvey - A Story of Guilt

Hurricane Harvey
From Someone who had no flooding, no damage, a heart full of guilt and no real story to tell.

Photo by Edoo Photography


There is a little grassy area to the right of Kollin's elementary school that all the moms who walk their children home hang out in before school gets out. On Thursday August 24th, I was standing there waiting to pick up my little guy from his third day of Kindergarten. The chatter began...."NO SCHOOL FRIDAY AND MONDAY"....seriously?!?!? It's sunny outside, a little windier than normal but no big deal. It is so nice out, "what am I going to do now, I have plans?!?!?" Luckily, there was an echo amongst the group of "walker" moms.

Friday came and it was gorgeous, nice and sunny, still a little windy and the temperature had dropped. The rain started, but no big deal.


We weren't worried, we didn't think much of it. I held a yoga class Saturday morning at a friends house, we went to a birthday party in the afternoon. It was just a little rainstorm....

We've lived in Houston, going on our 8th year this month (September), and we've never been in a hurricane or even a worrisome tropical storm. Last year, we were in pretty severe flooding, but once again it didn't really come close to our street or have any change in our normal routine. Downtown Houston floods constantly in a seriously heavy downpour, so we carried on. Not to mention last year's major Brazos River flooding was partly due to heavy rainstorms in the Dallas Area.

Between Saturday and Sunday night we had around 150+ tornado warnings in the area. We had been in our tiny bathroom, which is normally covered in 5 year old boy pee, under the stairs for over an hour and a half waiting.... hoping everything was okay. Saturday night a tornado hit Sienna Plantation, a neighborhood about 14 miles south of our house, on Facebook the next morning we had friends post picture of damage on their street.

I had another friend who I do yoga with that lives much further north post pictures of all of her furniture put up on their second floor or elevated above their flooring. Water was close to coming inside. They had no power, but they had running water.

By the time Sunday morning came around the flooding began.... I was becoming a little more okay with Kollin not being in school, but I figured it would be over soon, it normally would have been. Another night of rapid tornado warnings...another tornado touched down this time to the north east of us. I had planned to host another yoga class in the morning and then the City of Sugar Land posted on their Facebook page that everyone should remain home unless it is an emergency. Um, say what?!?!?!?

I decided no yoga classes and I figured people were thinking the same as me, it's just an overblown rainstorm...I'll do a yoga live class. I'd never done something like that before, no time like the present. Then it was announced NO SCHOOL UNTIL AFTER LABOR DAY....once again really?!?!?!

I noticed something weird, one of the major news channels in the area was offline and not showing any broadcasting. I hit up Facebook to then see water pouring into their studios through the doorway, like a scene from an "end of the World" type of movie. I thought, yeah okay, downtown Houston floods, this is just worse than normal.....

From the start of Sunday morning to Sunday night there was a shift, the flooding had become MAJOR. There were peopled being rescued by boat, they were on top of their roofs being lifted off via helicopter. Things were getting serious. I saw a little old lady be strapped to a rope hanging from a helicopter and was airlifted to safety. I cried. I cried a lot. I couldn't believe this was happening. I thought it was just going to stop. I needed a break from the news and watched the season finale of Game of Thrones --- SOOO GOOD. Is Bran the Night King? Is Cersei really pregnant? Oh Tormund, come back to me!

There was even a break in the rain on Sunday, and I told Kyle I was going to go to the grocery store and get more food just in case. Kollin and I went thinking we would be gone an hour. There was only one grocery store open within probably a 10 mile radius. We waited in line to check out for 2.5 hours. There was no bread or water left, but I knew at that point there was no way I was going to get back out again for a while.

Did you know you are supposed to buy your Hurricane Emergency Kits June 1st - water, batteries, and non-perishables - I didn't or at least I forgot.

By Monday morning Houston had taken in 14 inches of rainfall in just two days with another 15 to 25 expected over the next two days. They were going to open up the dams at the two reservoirs in north Houston and intentionally add more water to the surrounding areas and into downtown. I understood that the action they decided to take was due to maintain the integrity of the dam and that flooding 1000 people was better than the dam breaking and flooding 10,000 people.

Our area was added to the "voluntary evacuation" list (not due to the dams, but due to the Brazos River flooding and coming out of its banks). Our neighborhood was surrounded on 3 sides by mandatory evacuations. We live in a levee area and threat of the levees breaking was real and was scary. The potential for our neighborhood to fill up with water from the river like a toddler pouring milk into a cereal bowl was very unnerving. However, our particular neighborhood wasn't seeing much flooding. We were still considered voluntary. They defined voluntary as having potential street flooding and no access out of the neighborhood. Nothing I felt like we couldn't handle.

Here's the thing with "voluntary" stuff - it's that - VOLUNTARY. No one goes to voluntary staff meetings, no one does voluntary extra study hours or assignments, and no one voluntarily does things that makes their life harder (such as move your entire family about 3 hours away for a "we don't know" amount of time). We didn't evacuate.

Honestly, Kyle was irritated he wasn't at work - which in return made me irritated. No one was supposed to be on the roads except emergency personnel. The problem is his job has no boundaries. There is no "at home" time or "at work" time, it's all up for grabs. He complained and I complained. "I can't get anything done here" to which I replied "those people at your work are crazy, it's a fucking hurricane, people are being airlifted off their homes."

Between Sunday and Tuesday were the worst days, I honestly debated not posting anything on Facebook. I was afraid for people that weren't here to know the status of what "could" happen. I was afraid our families would be overly worried. I was afraid people wouldn't get what was happening if they weren't "in" it. We had no flooding or water damage. However, posting on Facebook made me feel better, and after seeing all the Facebook responses, it clearly made many others feel better as well.

We stayed glued to the TV Monday and Tuesday, by that time a few of our friends had evacuated. Those who evacuated posted on Facebook their routes and that there was high water and it was becoming unsafe. Our evacuation routes had now become flooded. We were stuck.

We debated back and forth for a few hours on Monday to evacuate. It is such an intense decision. Do you stay and hope you are safe? Do you get in your car and hope you don't drive through high water knowing there is high water in your path? Where will my family be most safe? People judge, I have - I did it during Katrina. "Why didn't they just leave?" Well, now I know. I quickly packed a suitcase and the moment I zipped it I sobbed. Like super ugly cry. How could I leave our home? How could I leave and not know what is going to happen? What if I come back and our bottom floor is covered in water? What if everything we have worked so hard for is damaged? What about all the breastmilk I have stored? What about all my stuff? - As many people say "You can replace things, but you can't replace yourself or your family" Yeah, I get that. I would NEVER choose my stuff over my family. But to think your home, your sacred space, your sanctuary will be completely different than with you left it is a very unsettling feeling. We didn't evacuate, it was too late.

By Tuesday morning the threat of flooding became dire even though the rain stopped. The Brazos River was expected to reach its highest point ever and it was starting to get scary. There was potential for us to be completely surrounded by flooding and be stuck in our homes for 5 days with no way out and no way in.

I did more yoga, by that time people started asking for donations for the people in shelters. I was able to donate and that was super exciting. We went on a walk, I don't think Kyle had left the house in 3 or 4 days.

By Wednesday morning, much of the water within Houston had receded. Kyle went back to work, it was weird. It was like nothing had happened, except everything had happened. It was sunny and gorgeous outside, the weather on Wednesday never would have indicated for the past 4 days it rained so uncontrollably people lost everything and a few even lost their lives.

The National Weather Service had started to predict lower levels of the Brazos and the river reaching those levels kept getting pushed further and further back. Our street still had no flooding.

All I saw on the news and on my friends' Facebook the last few days was utter destruction. Many of them gone without knowing the extent of what they would return to. Once again turning on the news to see a girl around Charlotte's age (9 months) who was under medical attention floating in a tupperwear container down a flooded street to safety. I sobbed. Why was this happening to that baby? Why are we totally dry?

I was quiet on Thursday. I was trying to process a once again gorgeous day and complete destruction. Our lives had returned to a somewhat normal life. School was just pushed back again another week. Why are we dry? How can I help? How can I honestly complain about being stuck inside? How can I blog or podcast, no one wants to hear that we are fine. We just complained about Chik-fil-a having a limited menu, I mean seriously CFA how could you in a time like this?!?

From Thursday until now my mind has been racing. The anxiousness of the storm coupled with the helplessness and guilt has made me exhausted. I jump at any opportunity to donate or help out, and I have been trying myself to think of ways I can be of service to my community. I would love to tear down walls and rip up flooring, I LOVE doing stuff like that, but what do I do with my kids. Many shelters are a max capacity on donations and volunteers. I feel for the honest to God first time that I don't know what to do unless someone tells me what to do. I've made t-shirts and I've done benefit yoga classes, but what else can I do?!?!? I feel like nothing is enough.

I was overly protective of my donations and answers to questions. I had a lot of people constantly ask me about where to donate and so on, and I found myself getting irritated. Are people just donating to clean out their closest or do they actually want to help? Once again, I was mad I didn't know what do to, and taking my frustration about my helplessness and guilt on others. I would post another update on Facebook and think "don't these people get it, I AM FINE, NOT FLOODING, NOTHING IS HAPPENING TO ME, don't they realize this is weird"

The hurricane is over but the hard work has just begun for many. Every day I continue to see photos of people I personally know whose homes were destroyed, people who have a real story to tell. Like a great set of friends I have that had no power for 5 days and the only way out of their area was via boat...I think it is still underwater. Every day I feel feelings of guilt. Why not me?

I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me.

I'm asking to notice and get present to what you feel like now. I feel different. I feel guilty. I feel sad. I feel helpless. I feel angry. I feel happy. I feel motivated. I feel empowered. I feel strong. I feel proud.

People who had problems before Harvey will continue to have problems after, except they had Harvey to add to their problems. My friend whose daughter had a liver transplant maintained many relationships with other families here in Houston. Those kids need transplants and were temporarily suspended from the transplant list during Harvey. People who were living paycheck to paycheck or could barely make rent are still living paycheck to paycheck, and had Harvey destroy everything.

People who were ordinary became extraordinary. Hundreds of people with big tall trucks, tractors and boats all came to serve. People who didn't care who anyone was, they just wanted to be of service to those who needed help. People needed rescued because they were people. The Houston Mayor said he didn't care if you were an illegal immigrant, he just wanted you safe.

I feel different, and I don't know what exactly is different yet. Realizing being of service no matter what that looks like, is all that matters. Being available for growth and immediately available for someone or something bigger than yourself is what is important. Even if its connecting through yoga live on Facebook. It doesn't matter if I lost everything or nothing, it matters that we come together. It matters that I DO something, even if it just means holding a yoga class, texting a friend or moving 12 boxes of bananas from one place to another.

I am a YES for service, even if it is something that seams small, but I still feel guilty and that is just something that is going to be hard to shake off.

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