When I was a child growing up in the Gulf Coast of Texas I lived through three large hurricanes that brought significant flooding to my community. So I watched in horror as Hurricane Harvey descended on Houston and environs, and as South Asia lost over a thousand people to their flooding disaster. My family was among the lucky ones who didn’t have to do significant rebuilding, but I know firsthand what it is like to watch powerlessly as nature reminds us in the most visceral way possible, that we are not in control.
The poet rupi kaur wrote: “your body / is a museum / of natural disasters / can you grasp how / stunning that is.” We are forged out of disaster in so many ways, yet we often believe we can avoid that truth. There is no control. There is no averting. There is no outrunning the power of nature. We can only respond. And that response is everything. It requires the deepest kind of courage we can summon.
I turn to poetry in times like this, as it speaks between the lines of reality. In The Book of the Dead, Muriel Rukeyser offers this: “What three things can never be done? / Forget. Keep silent. Stand alone.” We can, of course, do these things. But our souls get torn apart when we do. I think of the difference between the response to Katrina when humanity seemed abandoned, and the way in which Houstonians and strangers alike came together to help their fellow humans.
The only thing we can control in the face of nature is how we show up. This kind of courage usually doesn’t take thinking about. It’s simply what we do. And every small and large spontaneously brave action tells us something precious about what humanity is capable of. It is that knowledge that helps us get up to face another day, no matter what it brings.
P.S. Courage & Renewal programs offer places and practices that help us show up with courage in hard times.
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