the end of the hurricane harvey story


One year, three months and three weeks ago, Marcus, Alex and I waded out of our home due to floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. As of this past weekend, we are officially back in our home — on the same land, but in a newer, higher, 2-storey structure. All our belongings are with us: the apartment where we stayed as temporary lodging has been cleaned and the key has been turned into the management company, the storage pod that housed what we could salvage has been returned to the pod company, and trash has been picked up. We’re officially here.

A little over a week ago, when the pod was delivered and I opened the pod door to reveal the entirety of what we had been able to salvage last year, I was surprised at how much emotion rushed over me. Coincidentally, at the same time, I received text from my friend Brené on a completely different subject — and as soon as I saw her text, I rang her up. I needed to hear her voice.

In tears, I told her that I suddenly felt emotional. And this is where it’s wonderful to have a dear friend who also happens to be a social worker.

“Karen,” she said, “what you endured last year was a trauma, and you’ve had absolutely no time to process it. You’ve just been busy keeping everything afloat, rebuilding, and holding your family together. Of course you’re emotional.”

And then she added this: “Besides, most people in the world go through their lives not really understanding that a single event can take everything away from you. You don’t have the luxury of thinking like that anymore. Like so many people in our city, you know that the possibility of this happening isn’t as remote as you might have once believed. This is a hard truth to know.”

I immediately felt so incredibly understood. “You’re right,” I said gratefully. “That’s exactly how I feel. Everything seems so fragile now.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about Brené’s words. I have no illusions about the fact that this house we’ve managed to rebuild might be as temporary as the previous house. And I haven’t really processed everything that has happened, not really.

And yet, today, as I type this, in my new home office, with the Christmas tree lights twinkling just down the hall, I’m well aware that our Hurricane Harvey story has come to an end. So in the interest of some final processing, here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Resilience might be the key to everything. Forget making millions, or becoming the CEO of a lucrative company, or raising perfect children, or buying the dream house or car, or creating an enviable work/life balance: what we should all be cultivating, in ourselves and in the people we love, is the gift of resilience, of being able to get up — stronger, better, clearer — after life knocks you down. This necessarily means also cultivating courage, and self-compassion, and a sense of adventure and optimism, and none of these things is easy. But when I think about what I want my daughter to have learned from this ordeal, over and above everything else, it is resiliency. Because I think with resiliency, you can handle anything life hurls in your direction.

2) Kindness comes in more forms than I can count. So, so, so many people came to our aid over the last 15 months, and it’s been amazing how creative people have been with the way they’ve shown us love. From my friend who sent me a funny notepad days after we waded out (“We’re fine,” was my common refrain to worried friends), to another friend who called me a month or so later and offered me weed (I didn’t accept, and have never smoked weed a day in my life, but I love that he took the risk of offering it to me anyway), to the friend who, just days ago dropped by unannounced, sharing that she was at Target picking up a few things to make her home more Christmas-y, and decided to drop a couple of additional things in her basket for us, knowing that we were so busy moving in we really hadn’t even thought about Christmas at all (but now I have a Christmas tree plate, a yuletide dishtowel, and peppermint-scented dishwashing soap to make my kitchen look and smell perfectly seasonal). It’s these little acts of kindness that I will never forget, and I really hope that I can pay it forward in some way.

3) Our family is strong. Not that I didn’t know that before, but we have evidence now. Our threesome make a really great team. I’m so grateful for Marcus and Alex.

With that, this is the end of our Hurricane Harvey story. It’s fitting that it comes to the end at the end of the year — we will begin the new year with truly a clean slate, ready to make 2019 what we need it to be. Let’s put this all behind us, then, shall we? But before we do, most importantly, thanks to all of you who have followed our story, and sent us your unfailing support, and love and friendship through all of this. I wish I could describe how much your words, and emails, and gifts, and prayers have held us up over the last year, but I don’t have the words. Please just know that they have.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(Incidentally, our family is hardly the last to return to our home after the Hurricane Harvey flooding — there are many who are still displaced, or who are living in the shells of their former homes. We are very aware how lucky our family is, and as part of our end-of-year charitable giving, we’ve donated to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas’ Home for the Holidays initiative. I share this only as a suggestion, if you’re looking for a way to help Harvey survivors who might still be struggling. No one is asking me to share this — I just thought I would.)