First it was Hurricane Harvey, and now Irma. We’re witnessing something in this country that is, I think, very “American”, and not just American in a generic sense, but that unique definition of American that has its roots in the values that undergird the collective character that made us the greatest nation on earth. When Hurricane Harvey hit and now as Irma is bearing down on Florida, we gather around our TVs and electronic devices to watch the videos and listen to the news reports. As we do, a rare and powerful phenomenon begins to unfold. As the storms intensify and the wind and flood waters rape the landscape and destroy homes and lives, multitudes of us have felt our hearts being knit together with people we don’t know and will almost certainly never meet. That heart connection began to spread across America, and soon the power of it started to be seen everywhere.
An Attitude Catches Hold ~
Multitudes of us began to pray individually and with our families as soon as we saw the devastating impact that Harvey could deliver. Groups began to gather, and prayer meetings popped up in homes and churches across the land. Those prayers moved millions to reach into their wallets, and money started pouring in along with the rain. But the prayers moved thousands to open more than their wallets and to sacrifice more than money. Vacation plans were scrubbed as people devoted their hard-earned paid leave time for something they hadn’t planned. Instead of loading up their boats for personal and family recreation, they loaded them with supplies and set out to drive hundreds of miles in the hope that they might help rescue helpless people and animals trapped by the flood. Roads to Texas and Louisiana were filled with cars loaded with people and supplies, ready to do whatever they could to help. Trucks hit the road from everywhere pulling trailers filled with food, water, personal hygiene items, clothing, food, tools, and other assorted necessities.
We’ve been seeing and feeling inexpressibly good things in the midst of inexpressibly bad times. Dictionaries make a feeble attempt to capture what this incredible phenomenon is by offering us words like “compassion”, but they are as inadequate to unveil the depth of what we’re seeing with that simple term as they are to define its counterpart with the word, “love”. Compassion is a compelling, mystifying, radiant, and altogether beautiful thing, and more than words alone are needed in order to see it. The challenges that poured down with Harvey and that are now blowing ashore with Irma provide a dark backdrop of human suffering against which God unfolds in human flesh an exposition of compassion that can’t be understood without them. It’s what Jesus had in mind when He taught that: “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NKJV).
Unnatural Reactions ~
We saw this phenomenon in Texas and Louisiana, and most recently in the Caribbean and now Florida. As thousands of Americans were overwhelmed by the storms and left hungry, thirsty, destitute, injured, anxious, and afraid, other Americans who were unrelated to them and safely disconnected from their plight began to consciously embrace their fear, share their anxiety, sense their pain, internalize their grief, and understand their longing for a hope with substance. In an act that totally contradicts every normal tendency of our fallen human nature, those who were not in distress purposely began to absorb the distress of others into their own hearts and accept their burdens as if they were their own. The atheists and Darwinian evolutionists have no place in their motivations of human behavior to accommodate reactions like that, but God does, and that’s how “compassion” works. These storms have shown us not only what the incredible power of compassion looks like but have also reminded us that its priceless benefits do not come cheap.
A Word Defined in Scenes and Stories ~
We have learned that compassion can drain your strength and wear you out. We saw glimpses of that in the faces of people feeling the impact of unrelenting demands for laborious exertion. Hour after hour of wading through water, dragging boats, lifting people and their belongings, fighting wind, rain, cold, and sleeplessness left exhausted rescuers lying on thin blankets, bare floors, or whatever they could find in an effort to regain the strength to continue. Fatigue became as heartless an enemy as the wind and water, determined to rob compassion of its power to free and save those who were trapped and hopeless, but we watched compassion overcome its enemies again and again and prove itself to be a force that refuses to yield.
Heroic exhibitions of compassion in the stories unfolding in these storms will take years to tell. They will be found in every socio-economic level and will drift across every ethnic and racial boundary. Incidents will be told and re-told, like the one I heard about a 12-year-old boy in a hospital in Houston. During the storm, his condition apparently deteriorated into a life-threatening crisis that needed immediate surgery. The floods were rising and there was no surgeon on site who could do it. A qualified doctor who was off duty was frantically trying to grab his most important possessions before the flood waters claimed his house when his phone rang. The surgeon dropped his belongings, abandoned both his task and his house, and headed for the hospital. He soon discovered that the roads to the hospital were already flooded and his car was useless. He spied some guys with a canoe in the back of their truck, and soon they had the doctor on board and were paddling toward the hospital. They made it in time, and the doctor was able to save the little boy’s life, but his house and its treasures were lost.
Sometimes the priceless act of meeting someone else’s need requires the sacrifice of treasures of our own. But when the needs of others reach into our hearts deeper than the value of our possessions, our gift then becomes an indelible expression of who we are — and not just what we have. Gifts like that do more than overcome circumstances, they transform lives.
© 2017 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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