September 16, 2019

In the middle of our national breakdown, Harvey shows up

“I have covered as many as five wars on two continents,” Houston resident and reporter Clifford Krauss wrote on Aug. 27 in The New York Times, “but nothing prepared me for when the big story collided with me and my family.”

Krauss was recounting the harrowing experience of confronting Hurricane Harvey in his leafy Houston suburb of Bellaire:

“As I write this, the home that I saved my entire career to buy is flooding fast and my wife, Paola, our 12-year-old daughter, Emilie, and I have moved to the second floor with some of our valuables, food, water, and of course our three-year-old cockapoo, Sweetie, who is now barking frantically out of fear.

“It’s only a matter of time before our piano is ruined. One of our cars looks completely flooded, and the other is blocked in the garage, so it looks like we will be staying put for a while.”

Just when the country seemed to be going into meltdown after seven of the most chaotic and divisive months in U.S. presidential history, Mother Nature shows up to remind us that Donald Trump is not the only force of nature we can’t control.

I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to be trapped in an epic flood– roads turning into rivers, family rooms into shallow pools, stable lives into emotional wrecks.

The first question must surely be: Are our lives in danger?

I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to be trapped in an epic flood– roads turning into rivers, family rooms into shallow pools, stable lives into emotional wrecks.

I remember thinking about survival a few summers ago when I was awakened one Saturday morning in my Tel Aviv hotel by a shrieking siren. It was in the middle of the Gaza War. A missile had been launched by Hamas, and a man’s voice came over the hotel’s public address system telling us to proceed immediately to the bomb shelter or the emergency stairs.

During the 30 minutes or so that I huddled with a group of other hotel guests, it was the evil of human beings that was on my mind. Those missiles were coming from human beings with hatred in their hearts and Jews in their sights.

There was something oddly comforting about fighting humans. At least we knew where they were. We could predict what they would do. We knew who to blame.

It’s much harder to blame Mother Nature. What does she know? Her earthquakes and hurricanes and monsoons and tornadoes don’t come from hatred or evil. They come from the natural order and disorder of things.

But there’s a silver lining to the hell unleashed by Mother Nature. Because we can’t blame human beings for the disaster, there is a tendency to bond with our fellow humans. In the middle of rescue missions, no one cares whether you voted for Trump or Clinton, whether you’re antifa or nationalist, whether you’re black or Hispanic or Jewish or Muslim, whether you’re transgender or redneck.

When Mother Nature attacks, we’re all created equal. We’re all neighbors.

Krauss says his family are the lucky ones: “For the moment, I don’t think we are in any danger, and the three of us are keeping calm, gaining strength from the sturdiness of our neighbors.”

In a few months, neighborly sentiments will probably take a back seat to finger pointing and politics. Harvey will take its place in Nature’s Hall of Fame of calamities, along with Katrina and many others, and we will go back to complaining about other humans.

It’s still worth noting, though, that for a brief moment at least, Harvey has brought the nation together. By storming Houston, the hurricane made us all Houstonians. It has replaced our political anger with compassion, our partisan animosity with solidarity.

Yes, it’s a shame that it takes such disasters to bring out the better angels of our nature. Maybe, then, if we want to truly honor the victims of Houston, we will allow those angels to stay awhile.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at