The motel was one of those old fashioned, single story places on the edge of a tiny town in heart of Louisiana. I was headed there late at night in the midst of a torrential rain storm—the kind where your windshield wipers simply keep time without making a dent in the solid curtain of water rushing across the glass. I crawled slowly along in my tinny little rental car, praying that I could avoid the water flooding across the roadways and threatening to sweep me away. When I finally arrived, relieved and desperately tired, I was given a key by a sleepy young woman at the desk and pointed in the general direction toward a room at the end of a long line of tiny little rundown units.
Before falling into my 2-star hotel bed, I uncharacteristically left my belongings in my little bag and hoisted it up on top of the TV—primarily because I didn’t like the slightly slimy feel of the carpet. I had no idea at the time what a life-saver that little break in my routine would prove to be.
Around 2am, I awoke to a strange noise. I have no idea what it was, but I swung my feet over the side of the bed to look around—and landed in about a foot of cold, swirling water. I can’t describe what a scary and disorienting feeling it is to be in a pitch dark room and feel water where it just shouldn’t be. I called the only number I could find for the hotel and after several times, managed to rouse a night attendant who wasn’t on site. He assured me that they’d get someone there to help me as soon as possible. He also suggested that I stay up on the bed and out of the water—as it was likely that the canal had broken its banks and I might encounter a snake or two.
I sat hopelessly on the bed as I watched the water continue to rise in the weak little beam of light from my cell phone. Fifteen minutes later, a man with a flashlight, a rope and a soaked rain coat forced open my door and yelled for me to grab his arm. I threw my bag over my shoulder and jumped into the water that was now well above my knees. As we waded out into the courtyard area, the water got deeper and colder—and in the pitch black, I was terrified that I’d run into a snake or worse, an alligator.
Adrenalin served the purpose of both propelling me forward and giving me an evil case of the shakes. In what seemed like hours, but was only minutes…I was taken to the far end of the hotel, up a small rise, and placed in a dry room. There was no sleep that night as I huddled in my blanket and listened to the weird sounds of water as it created its own path through the neighborhood.
This was 5 years ago, and this is what I remember so distinctly. Complete strangers at that little hotel gathered that night and the next day to provide support, help with the logistics of getting dry and finding a way out. The man who opened the door and got me out of that room in the middle of the night didn’t speak much English and he was a part-time maintenance person who just happened to be in the area that night.
However, he wrapped his raincoat around my shoulders, held tight to my arm as we waded into the dark and stayed to make sure that I was warm, dry and safe. He also came around early the next morning, to help me to rescue my car and get it dry. He disappeared before I could tell him how much I appreciated his help, and yet, he is just one of so many people I wanted to thank.
I am writing this as so many people, including my friends and clients are struggling with the massive flooding that just struck Louisiana again. I can only imagine how frightening and disorienting it must be to see your home turf being swallowed by an unrelenting torrent of water. However, I also know that people will come together to support each other, and stand together to rebuild communities, homes and lives. I have already had reports of remarkable caring and resourcefulness as workmates, neighbors and family members reach out to those in need.
I have been overwhelmed by so much of the negative and desperately sad news from home and abroad. Even the cheery Olympics cannot ease the angst of seeing so many lives destroyed by war, homes vanquished by natural and unnatural disasters and politicians waging a battle that seems to celebrate and elevate the worst of our behavior. We criticize, blame and harp about how wrong, misguided and bad people seem to be.
But, what we seem to miss, the part that rarely gets reported in these tough times, is the kindness and sacrifice of strangers. We don’t hear about the willingness of so many to put their own needs and even their own safety to one side as they fling themselves into the center of the calamity to see who they can save. We fail to celebrate the best of what humanity demonstrates, every single day.
Five years ago I missed the opportunity to do this, so to all of the unsung heroes out there…I say THANK YOU. Because of you, I remain optimistic and deeply grateful.