In response to the Texas Deep Freeze last week, I decided to reflect on our experience with the latest unprecedented event. I’m ready to retire the word “unprecedented.” Unprecedented events appear to be the new normal what with the 2017 Hurricane Harvey, the 2020/21 COVID-19 pandemic, and now the Texas Deep Freeze of 2021. As I sat in the cold, huddled under blankets, reading by flashlight, I kept thinking about the Mayflower passengers I’ve written about so often for the past few years.
Writing about our inconveniencies seems ridiculous compared to their plight from November 1620 through the following spring thaw. The weather then was probably comparable to what we experienced in Houston last week – temps in the teens and in places below that. Though we were cold, the house temperature only dropped to the lower 50s. We have a gas stove to prepare warm meals and endless hot drinks. The Mayflower lacked such luxuries.
An Ounce of Prevention
Anticipating the pipes might freeze, we turned off the water and drained the water into numerous pots and pans. Good thing we did. By mid-week we were advised to boil all tap water before consuming it. The people on the Mayflower didn’t have running water. They drank beer, a safer option than water, and used chamber pots to handle necessary functions. There was no privacy. It repulses me thinking about it; let alone living that way. Though the voyage was only two months, they were onboard for two months before they actually sailed and lived on the ship a couple more months after arriving, until they built their first shelter. First, they had to chop down the trees for the wood to make the shelter. We had to find some matches to light the gas stove and remember where we stored the extra batteries to run the flashlights.
The events of last week, combined with spending hours each week back in the 1500 and 1600s doing research, got me to thinking about life in the 21st Century. I am conflicted.
Stuck Between Grief and Gratitude
Years ago, I did my required Clinical Pastor Education (CPE) training at Houston Hermann Hospital before it became Memorial Hermann. One day I was given the task of convincing a new mother she had to name her twins for their birth certificates and go home. She was stuck. One twin had died almost immediately after birth. When she mourned that baby, she felt guilty for not being grateful for the life of the surviving twin. If she rejoiced at the birth of her healthy baby, she felt guilty for not mourning the dead one.
Her family wasn’t helping. They kept reminding her, “At least you have one.” My assignment was to talk her into moving on. I had no words of wisdom to offer. All I had to offer her were two ears and a few tears at her plight. One of the things they drill into us in CPE training is the power of just showing up. I probably spent an hour or so with her, saying very little. She didn’t say much either as I recall. Somehow being together for a few minutes in the midst of such a conflicted moment gave her the ability to comply with the hospital’s request to name her babies, and prepare to take the living one home with her.
Grateful and Yet Frustrated
My days of naming babies ended a long time ago; but I am today about where this young mother was in that hospital room long ago – conflicted. If I count my blessings, I feel guilty for all the privileges I had even in the midst of the challenges of last week. Though our home was cold and dark by 6:30 p.m., we have a good home with insulation and plenty of warm blankets and clothing. Though we lacked power, we have a gas stove to prepare warm meals. Though we lacked running water, we had water and a way to heat it. I am grateful for all this.
And yet it was a miserable week. Without power I soon drained the computer and could no longer use it. The phone reception dropped to nearly nothing in the house, rendering anything related to digital or voice communication slow or non-existent. A couple of times we moved the car to a nearby parking lot where we got reception to send and receive e-mails, listen to the news, recharge the phones, and warm up. All luxuries to be sure.
I’ve travel to places where none of these resources exist. I’ve been hosted by a woman whose “bathroom” is an outhouse, whose “bedroom” is a hammock under a canvas canopy, and whose “kitchen” is a charcoal grill outside that “bedroom.” Her situation was neither rare nor temporary. That is how she and her family lived until Habitat for Humanity selected her family to get one of the new homes Habitat was building in her community.
She, along with others, kept food coming, meal after meal when they could barely feed themselves. I think the local Habitat affiliate paid for the food they prepared for us. I hope so. I and my team members slept in relative luxury at night in a hotel a few miles away.
Asking Questions That Lack Answers
My conflicted response probably comes from too much time to ponder a question that has no adequate answer: “Why?” Why are some condemned to live in squalor and misery while others live in comfort, surrounded with conveniences?
To whom much is given, much is expected. How are we who have so much, even in a week lacking heat and running water, to respond? I do not know, but I have some theories.
- I don’t believe anyone deserves to suffer any more than others deserve to prosper, though I know this theology was widely taught a century ago. Our actions do have consequences, but many of life’s circumstances are beyond our control – like the Texas Deep Freeze.
- The causes behind the circumstances are complex. It is so much easier to blame some scapegoat than work collaboratively to identify and implement workable solutions.
- Corny cliches are often true. The rain, and the freezing temperatures, really do fall on everyone, regardless of social status.
- We are all both sinners and saints. The amount of which trait dominates depends on which one we nurture.
- We are all interdependent on one another. Ultimately, there is no “we” vs. “them.” There is only one enormous “us.”
Better Days Ahead
The past year has rattled a lot of assumptions, upset semi-tractor size truckloads of plans, and continues to cause real danger and plenty of consternation We need one another in times of crisis, and yet the pandemic crisis keeps us apart or risks lives getting together.
Though we can’t control the weather, we can help one another. Deliver a meal. Write a check. Call to check up on people. Share the heat and safe water.
This scripture quote popped up this week in a journal friend Liz Johnson gave me: Finally, friends, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. (Philippians 4:8).
Spring is coming. That is certainly true, right, and lovely.