Life Social Good

What I Learned from Hurricane Harvey as a New Houstonian

Cup of Charisma, Houston Blogger, reflects on what she learned from Hurricane Harvey after it left devastation in Houston, Texas.

It’s been a rough month and while I’ve taken quite a departure from the blog in August, I wanted to come back and share some of the emotions I’ve had while processing Hurrican Harvey and the havoc it unloaded on Houston. As Hurrican Irma is on track to hit my home state of Florida, it feels helpless being hit in not one home, but two. Harvey was unlike any hurricane or natural disaster I had ever seen. I tried to get home after attending Yellow Conference in LA (you can read about how I got stuck in this New York Times’ piece), but couldn’t beat the storm which led to many flights and a drive to Houston. I wrote the below essay in a Facebook status after I finally made it home from Ft. Lauderdale to Houston while experiencing late-night insomnia and tidying up my clean, undamaged apartment. Things felt surreal and I felt helpless. As we cope with whatever storms and disasters life throws in front of us, I wanted to highlight two silver linings: hope and community. This year’s political rhetoric has dimmed that spark I once had for the human heart. I believed everyone had heart, the sky was all rainbows, the good always prevails, and whatever unicorn candy life feeds you when you’re young. It only took a spoonful of misogyny, a plate full of racism and far too many neo-Nazis in broad daylight to make me feel sickened and a bit depressed by what felt like a new normal. Houston’s attitude has illuminated the dark cloud I had hanging over me for not just this week, but for this year. Silver linings happen and sometimes they are strong enough to let all of the sunshine in. So here’s a little entry I wrote candidly after feeling disappointment and shifting it into complete pride.

Being marked as “safe” is not the same as being marked as “OK.” While national news is all gloom and doom, the scenes from this week remind me that Houston was the most life-changing move of my life and I’m forever indebted to this beautiful and accepting city. I count my blessings for the compassionate people I’ve met in Houston and the pride of our quirky community. South Florida is my hometown, but Houston has become HOME. I’m not the type of person who feels comfortable shutting down, so here it goes…
First off: Harvey sucks. I haven’t taken the time to truly process the damage Harvey left behind for my friends and neighbors until tonight, and it hurts like HELL. Tonight’s the first real night that I’ve processed the photos, videos, friend’s stories and damage that took place this past week since my first attempt at flying home on Saturday. I remember my group of Houston friends being terrified as I carelessly hopped a flight in hopes of getting home for what felt like a routine hurricane to this South Floridian. I’ve associated South Florida hurricanes with “hurricane parties,” and a day or two to miss work and curl up with a book. While my girl gang provided real-time updates, I was astonished and terrified with each text about rising waters, photos updates, and prayers for the storm to stop. My friend Emelia texted, “pray to whatever you believe in,” and if it were any other moment I would shrug it off. I don’t identify strongly with religion, but I prayed and prayed and prayed while my flight hovered just miles away from a catastrophe. It was difficult to feel so far away and helpless. I wanted to sweep up my friends who welcomed me to Houston with open arms. I wanted to form a shield around their homes and intercept the pounding rain. I couldn’t carry the weight of the storm. I couldn’t make it stop with prayers. I just flew beside the storm as a passenger to its malice while Harvey materialized as a potent threat to the people I love most.

Cup of Charisma - Hurricane Harvey FlightThe craziest flight route EVER. From LA to Houston, Dallas, Houston-ish, Dallas and finally Oklahoma City where my plane grounded.

To be blunt, I feel guilty. I’ve woken up with a painstaking bullet of penitence each day since arriving in Florida to a comfortable home on Sunday evening and arriving to an undamaged apartment last night, but today reached a new high. After arriving from Austin yesterday evening, I unpacked my bags and tidied the apartment after Houston’s curfew in a moment of restless insomnia. As I cleaned unaffected countertops and folded clothing, the heartbeat I’ve felt for my city from afar grew in rapidity and felt violent. We almost bought a house this year. We were spared the loss of everything we’ve accumulated in the last two and a half years; the loss of curated memories and everyday items that some of our friends now lack. We will pour ourselves into being there for others, but I still look at the photos in our home and the keepsakes from our life with a sickening grief for those who lost what we once took for granted.

What I Learned From Hurricane Harvey - Donations

Donations from friends helped purchase $200 worth of supplies to fill two duffle bags on my way home traveling with Southwest.

This emotional deposit was stemmed by my listening to the New York Times’ podcast, “The Daily” – a morning routine I’ve postponed all week until this case of 3 am insomnia. There is a surreal quality to seeing your city make national news. Of all of the countless critiques and headlines circulating about Houston’s Harvey efforts, I can attest to one thing: Texans have a heart like no other.

I remember friends asking if I’d ride a horse to work upon choosing to move to Texas. Friends joked about what cowboy hat I’d tout to work. While Texans love the rodeo and revel in their boots on Go Texans Day, I have to burst your bubble and admit that Houston is the most diverse city I’ve ever lived in. Coming from a Miamian, this is a huge statement. More than 145 languages are spoken in this gorgeous city. The diversity is incomparable. Sure, people have their political differences, but in crisis, we are colorblind to blue and red.

I love our local businesses and how many Houstonians would prefer to support the little guys than national names. I love our green parks and underestimated museums. I love that Kirby Drive LITERALLY shuts down for several hours as trail riders cross the road in horse and buggy like some old Western flick during rodeo season. I love the creative entrepreneur groups and how many fellow ladies are running things in Houston. I love that our Women’s March basically turned into a high-energy Beyonce dance party. I love the sense of community. I love that it feels like everyone knows each other despite Houston being anything but a small pond. I love that we have Mattress Mack taking in EVERYONE and exceeding expectations for his countless TV-commercial promises of the “best deal” in town. I love coming home and seeing photos of a community that isn’t shattered, but strong and emboldened– a community that walks outside to help complete strangers rip up flooring and cut sheetrock. I love that a FREAKING FLEET of civilian boats came to SAVE lives. I am more proud to be a Houstonian than ever.

There are countless ways to help Hurricane Harvey Relief in Houston. I’m no JJ Watt and I can’t say I’ve raised 20 million dollars, BUT I’ve spent the last week raising funds for the Houston Food Bank and gathering supplies. For my 28th birthday, I’m donating my gifts to the Houston Food Bank. If you’re interested in supporting the cause, please visit my donation page here.

Thank you for reading and following my journey. While neighborhoods and communities are so monumental and important, I appreciate my only community all the same.

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