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Stand to help Houston

| Monday, September 4, 2017

My friend Carrie and I walked to the Grotto last night. We stopped to take pictures of every pretty angle (which seems to be just about all of them when the light begins to change at Notre Dame) and were finally met with the warm glow of a thousand candles. A thousand prayers, really. And last night, as I went through the motions of touching the stone from the Grotto in Lourdes, choosing a candle and whatever we call those stick things, I took time to be present. This presence carried me from trying and failing to light my candle many times, to where I knelt gazing up at Mary. I did not say so much a prayer, but repeated the phrase I always do: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. When I finished (or, to be honest, my friend finished and I worried about taking too long), we rejoined on one of the benches lining the perimeter of the Grotto.

Because I’m prying, I asked her what she thought about. “Houston,” she said. She told me about a friend of hers from the area Harvey hit and how, even after his mother and brother left, his father refused to vacate their house. He couldn’t make himself leave everything he’d built a life in and around. She continued, “What does he think he can do? Stop the storm?”

For some reason, that sentence hit me. We sat there long past our pink sunset transitioned into navy, the darkness seeming somehow darker with the silence that followed her words. Of course he does, I thought. Of course he thinks he can somehow stop the storm. Sometimes people just have to believe in doing the impossible because the alternative is incomprehensible. The alternative is losing everything, so we somehow — in the face of our storm — stand against it in protest. This is a reckless determination, and in our history has been revolutionary, but I believe that when the wind is sideways and the water is coming in, all that matters is protecting and salvaging one’s life and everything held dear. If a storm were to hit Notre Dame, I’d like to believe more than a few students would stay and protect with Our Mother, however they could.

And it’s the sort of determination shown by the man in Houston that inspire others to join a cause we barely recognize as our own. But last night, my friend showed me that the struggle becomes our own when we let ourselves feel the immense power of others’ stories. When we see ourselves in their struggle, it is also ours. And there’s something so tragic and beautiful about that — about sharing another’s suffering through compassion once we allow ourselves to do so.

So as Houston begins to heal, light a candle at the Grotto, and keep those whose lives and homes have been devastated in your prayers. Perhaps even take other steps, like donating or volunteering over fall break to help those now piecing their lives back together after Harvey. In minor ways, we’ve all underwent storms. They are the experiences that seem to change how we make sense of the world, and their impact continues long after the rain stops. So we must not forget Houston now, but think about the man who stayed in his house. How his suffering may be far from over, but hopefully the man and even the storm itself will inspire us all to help. And in the future, show us how to withstand our own storms knowing others will meet us on the other side.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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