on rising up
Almost a year ago, immediately in the aftermath of the flooding of Hurricane Harvey, my husband Marcus and I walked around our house, stunned. After two weeks of dank, filthy water taking up residence in our home, half of our furniture had literally exploded from the moisture. Removing drywall revealed studs that had rotted so badly, many no longer reached the floor (convincing me that pure magic was keeping the house from completely caving in). And of course, everything smelled.
"What are we going to do?" I looked helplessly around.
"Well, we could sell." Marcus is always a pragmatist. "I mean, we bought below current land value. We could cut our losses and move somewhere else."
"I don't want to sell," I suddenly responded. "I mean, I don't know if we can afford to stay here, but I think we should try." I turned to look at Marcus in the eyes.
"I think our goal should be to make Hurricane Harvey be, in hindsight, one of the most meaningful things that has happened to us, ever."
It was a crazy thought, then; and at times, it still seems crazy. But as we've been working our way out of Harvey's effect on our lives (and almost a year later, we're still in the process of doing so), this has been our constant goal. We looked at finances, applied for a loans, researched builders. We created spreadsheets, trying to balance risk and reward. We saved the belongings that we could save. We removed the treasures we found in our old house before it was demolished, and put them aside for our new home. And in recent months, we've been watching our new home rise -- as of this writing, our house has windows, a roof, and inexplicably, 2 bathtubs ... but no walls or floors, yet. (Baby steps.) I cut all my hair off, to remove all the bad Harvey juju out of my hair: new house, clean slate. I'm slowly buying furniture, framing art that we'd managed to save, and pinning like our home depends on it. I have no idea if we'll succeed in our goal of making meaning from Harvey in the long run -- I mean, anything can happen, and we've got many more months before we'll be able to say that this ordeal is definitively behind us -- but if we're not successful, it's not going to be because of lack of trying. And in some ways, we're already making beautiful things happen: just the process of dreaming of what our home could be with Marcus and Alex has been really connecting.
A few months ago, I interviewed a new friend, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, author of the brilliant book Everything is Horrible and Wonderful, for the Make Light Show (if you haven't listened to that episode, you really should; Stephanie is an amazing person). Stephanie has endured a lot of hardship in her life: her brother, famed actor, comic and writer Harris Wittels, lost his fight against heroin addiction. During that time, her daughter was also born with bilateral deafness. Nevertheless, the grief from both of these events ended up prompting Stephanie to do some beautiful things: she created a scholarship fund in her brother's name for aspiring artists graduating from the Houston High School for Performing and Visual Arts; in addition, she was fierce in fighting for a bill in the Texas legislature that would compel insurance to cover hearing aids for deaf babies; hearing aids were previously considered "cosmetic" (her bill eventually passed). As we talked in our interview, we came to the conclusion that perhaps the way to get through difficulty is not to find your way out, but to find your way up. Stephanie said, "There's a survival thing that happens when there's so much to freak out about, where at some point you just have to put it in perspective, because you don't have the capacity to worry and fret over all of it. It's too much. So instead, you have to focus on the thing that totally matters," and operate from that.
I think she's right.
Recently, I read the book I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown, and immediately became a huge fan. (Seriously, if you're interested at all in becoming actively anti-racist, this book is required reading.) Yesterday, Austin published this post, and the following excerpt caught my eye:
Here's to rising up, creating meaning, and making light.
Soundtrack: Rise by Solange