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Lessons from Harvey

| Tuesday, March 27, 2018

For spring break, I traveled to Houston with my journalism class to report on the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. As a native Texan, I’d been to Houston before but hadn’t seen the city since well before Harvey hit.

As soon as we arrived, it was clear to me this wouldn’t be anything like my past visits.

I spoke to police officers, animal shelter employees, regular citizens and Harvey volunteers. I heard stories about an officer with Stage IV cancer who battled through both illness and churning waters to rescue people, about officers and citizens who saved others while their own homes flooded with water four feet deep, about lost dogs, cats and horses who have yet to be reunited with their families and about citizens who traveled into the storm from states away to help.

Everyone in Houston had something to share about Harvey, and every interview underscored the magnitude of the hurricane that no interview, no matter how detailed or personal, would be able to completely convey to an “outsider” like me.

But even so, every conversation I had also undergirded the sense of unity, resilience and gratitude I discovered woven across the sprawling city and suburbs of Houston. I may not be able to fully understand what Houston-area citizens went through and are going through, but I, like so many others from across the country who traveled there in the aftermath of Harvey, can at the very least hear them out.

It reminded me that in the face of tragedy or natural disasters, people come together. The challenge, however, is staying together.

The hurricane may be over, but the storm isn’t gone. The entire community was impacted — not just from physical damage Harvey wrought, but emotionally too. From Houston to Puerto Rico to Parkland, Florida, to every community who has felt the effects of tragedy or calamity in whatever form, those hardships and stories don’t end when the nation appears to move on.

One morning in Houston, we traveled to an area particularly swamped by Harvey to help a family rebuild its trailer home. We performed simple construction tasks for only about five hours, but the appreciation the family showed and the sense of purpose I felt is one I won’t forget anytime soon. They said we were “sent from God as an answer to prayer.” For many areas in or around Houston, that prayer continues.

No matter the situation, it is ashamedly easy to move on from tragedy or disaster when it is hundreds or thousands of miles away. But as one of my fellow classmates mentioned during the trip, even though places like Houston refuse to allow a catastrophe like Hurricane Harvey define them, it’s important to remind those communities they aren’t forgotten.

On my travels down to Texas, I remember perusing through social media and feeling a twinge of jealousy towards those lounging on the beach or vacationing abroad for spring break. After four-and-a-half days spent in Houston, however, it is clear to me that I was undoubtedly lucky to have had the opportunity I did to hear from those individuals and to remind members of that community that people still care.

Because in a mere four-and-a-half days, those individuals taught me more than just the trials and tribulations of Hurricane Harvey — they showed me the sheer power of empathy and compassion that should last through any tragedy, no matter its magnitude.

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

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she served as Editor-in-Chief at The Observer for the 2019-20 term. She is pursuing majors in political science and television with a minor in journalism. // Twitter: @KelliSmithNews

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