Identities

flood waters at night

Flooded House at Catawissa, PA
courtesy of Steven Zuby

How do you identify yourself to yourself? Do you go by physical description, occupation, social status? How about by your stuff? How tightly are you woven into your identity and what would you do if it unravels?

After watching hours and hours of coverage of the flooding in northeastern Pennsylvania from the remnants of Hurricane Lee, (September 8, 9, and 10), the devastation it caused seemed too immense to comprehend. Clips of bewildered and shocked people, some forced out of their warm beds at 4 a.m. to escape the rising waters which later flooded first floors almost up to the second, and in some cases, washed houses entirely off their foundations. Cars turned over or floated away. Outbuildings crushed. Trees gone. What I saw made my heart ache and I spent several restless nights trying to sleep, the pictures playing and replying in my head. (Here, safe in the woods, we had no damage.) I kept asking myself once the waters recede, what will people do, where can they even begin?

Brave people. The communities began cleaning up after the waters went down, counting up the ruined roads, wrecked bridges, damaged infastructure. In a down economy, with federal and state funds at a minimum, how long will it take to get back to normal, if ever? Homeowners piled ruined furniture, appliances, clothing, food – a lifetime’s worth of possessions – by the side of the road, to be bulldozed into piles then dumped by backhoes into trucks destined for the landfill. To stand and watch what was carefully acquired, chosen and brought home, cherished, now hauled away as trash, all the memories… What of the truly personal possessions, the photos, letters, family treasures destroyed by the flood, things which can never be replaced?

Some will move away, some will rebuild, but nothing will be the same. The familiar, safe surroundings gone forever. All of us can relate to some degree: we all have suffered painful losses: death, divorce, accident, failure. The price of living in physical reality is that we are physical and can be broken. And while we are in deepest pain, the world impersonally spins on. The sun shines and sparkles on the water; white clouds float above. The government grinds away in Washington.

Contrast the personal with the general here. People color their world by their emotions, going within, looking outward: what’s gone and what remains. Perhaps having lost so much, they can rewrite their lives in a different way, begin again, bring all their courage to bear on a new life and choose to live it the best way they know how. It’s a choice all of us make at one time or another when we lose something precious.

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