And then the most remarkable thing happened. We all, well, we all just got along. Everyone had a little more patience. Everyone gave everyone else the benefit of the doubt. We paused before we acted. When we acted, more often than not we acted out of kindness. People gave so much blood that the Red Cross started saying they couldn't take any more (but please come back in a month!). People gave money to help the victims. We didn't know them. We just knew they hurt, and we responded as best we could.
Congress sang together. Together. With one voice. You may not believe me. Here's the video evidence. The Patriot Act was passed. Among other things, it accepted significant limits to personal freedoms in the interest of protecting the broader good. Or as I might reinterpret that, we took a minute to think less about ourselves and more about each other. It's really weird to say it this way, but it was almost like Christmas. Good will prevailed as we focused more on what we had in common than we did on what divided us.
By now you know the end of the story. It didn't last. In time the back biting and finger pointing resumed, and we all just got cranky again.
It wasn't the first time our country was united in disaster, and it wouldn't be the last. This cycle is so common that it's a well-worn trope in Hollywood. Armageddon. Deep Impact. Day After Tomorrow. Independence Day. Disaster visits the world, and the world rises together to meet it (spoiler alert: the world always wins).
If there is a silver lining in disaster, it is that disaster serves to unite us in a way little else can. Maybe even nothing else.
Last week Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas and Louisiana. Many of our corporate reactions to the disaster were as before. Relief organizations mobilized, bolstered by generous giving. Groups of people gathered to prepare flood relief buckets. People drove their boats to the flooded area to participate in the rescue operations. And we had a little more patience with the people around us too.
But it was different. Even before the immediate danger had passed--when people were still being plucked from rooftops and airlifted to shelters--the ugliness was back. I guess this time around it never really left. Joel Osteen. Some called him a fake Christian because he didn't open his doors. Others called that fake news and said he couldn't. Climate change. Some people wanted to talk about how much more devastating this storm was because of climate change. Others said now isn't the time to talk about it (but haven't been willing to talk about it before and won't be willing to talk about it any time soon either). Our politicians, who at least used to be able to agree that people who are suffering need relief, have descended into bickering over which state deserves disaster assistance. Who voted for aid back when Hurricane Sandy hammered the East Coast? Who voted against? WHAT?! THE GUY FROM TEXAS?! WELL GUESS WHO'S GONNA GET HIS NOW!!! WHERE'S MY COPY OF GREEN EGGS AND HAM?
People are dying, and significant parts of our country are too preoccupied with their own agendas to help. Where is my silver lining? Where is the unity? When is that part in the movie where we all come together to slay the mythical beast and celebrate a new era of peace and prosperity? You've got to be kidding me. They are pawning my silver lining.
My friends out in Texas are gutting their houses. They are pulling out all their belongings, removing their flooring, and cutting their "drywall" (huh) 4 feet off the floor. Even as they do that, another hurricane is bearing down and will over the next few days wreak its own havoc on Puerto Rico and Haiti and God only knows where else. The crises are coming closer and closer together. Not just natural disasters, either. Remember we're still trying to come to grips with Charlottesville and the state of Confederate monuments while we keep one eye to our west, praying we won't be involved in World War III.
It reminds me (starkly and eerily) of Yeats and his "Second Coming."
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Honestly the last two lines of that passage are the scariest to me. It is a scary time indeed when "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Holy. Crap. Holy. Crap.
I would like nothing more than to be able to write now about the silver lining. I wish I could point out what you've been missing that reveals a subtle optimism which, when properly nurtured and fanned, will burn ever brighter until there is no more darkness. But I can't, because I'm missing it too.
Still, I can say this. If we are to survive--and I mean that absolutely literally--if we are to survive, then the best among us simply cannot lose our conviction. Not our conviction that we are right and someone else is wrong. That is a wolf in sheep's clothing. We have to hold fast to our conviction that people matter more than anything else. Family and strangers alike, we are in this together. One way or another, we have to find a song we can all sing together...and we need to sing it out loud for everyone to hear--for everyone to join.
Strange as it sounds, I can imagine that. Because a couple thousand years ago, a guy died on a cross showing what it means to love. Maybe there's hope for our silver lining after all.