Typically, anniversaries are celebrated with some friends and family, fanfare and hoopla. Others simply mark the passage of time. Unfortunately in the mix are the cringe-worthy anniversaries we wish never happened in the first place.
So, it happened about 10 years ago. Counted among the rather uninitiated, my wife and I paid only a modicum of attention. That day’s wake-up call came earlier than usual. There was no cause for alarm because there was no alarm. It was just the dog whining by our bedside. Time for a brief potty break. The master bedroom was located on the southeast corner of our walkout basement. After swinging my feet off the side of the bed, I quickly realized our pet had more urgent concerns than bladder relief. The real problem was she could find no dry spot on which to lie down, as the carpeting in our bedroom was soaked to the core.
Needless to say, this was a most startling “rise and shine!” I wasted no time in alerting my wife to this most unwanted guest. Literally, these were uncharted waters for the two of us. My mind was quickly racing at a speed at which I was quite unaccustomed this early in the morning. Looking across the bed, the communicated body language to my wife simply read distressfully, “What do we do now?”
As residents of Ottawa for more than 15 years, our next move was informed only slightly by having participated in some disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina. This failed, however, to mitigate any of our collective distress.
Previously, mornings had their own ordered regiment. Not that day! A heavily weighted exam was presented to us filled with multiple choices questions compounded by having to place answers in the correct sequence. Should we, and if so, when should we:
A. Change out of our pajamas.
B. Phone a friend.
C. Start moving what we could lift upstairs.
D. Break out the Shop Vac and squeegee.
E. Head to the village garage to see about sandbags.
F. Pick up concrete blocks from Kahle-Langhals to prop up furniture.
G. Throw our hands up in futility and get on our knees to pray.
H. All of the above?
With such a confusing state of affairs, I hardly recall the prioritization, so we simply starting doing.
The devastating 100-year flood that made its way to Ottawa and surrounding communities bordering the Blanchard River in late August 2007 was, most certainly, overwhelming, damaging and even life-altering. In the wake of her overflowing banks, multitudes of homes and various establishments were indiscriminately awash with the muddy river water sending all too many scurrying for cover. The water came without partiality and was far-reaching in treachery. It mattered not, home or apartment, rich or poor, church or business, restaurant or office, courthouse or nursing home, bank or bar.
Then, with surprising immediacy, before the damaging waters had even neared a peak, the “armed forces” started filtering into town. No, they didn’t have helmets on their heads or rifles on their shoulders. They had, rather, hammers, buckets and bleach in their hands, and hearts that poured out compassion in every direction. Plus, they and countless others had pocketbooks wide open.
Volunteers, money and in-kind donations arrived from places near and far. They embodied that biblical passage, “look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Even flood victims were found aiding flood victims.
A Flood Recovery Task Force quickly formed that tracked damages, assessed varying needs, coordinated volunteers and determined and distributed financial assistance to as many victims as possible.
It brought about a metamorphosis of this community. Houses of the unaffected became habitats for the displaced. Churches became soup kitchens and shelters. Football teams became manual laborers filling endless sandbags. Youth and young adults became appliance and furniture movers. Sidewalks and street sides became what appeared to be makeshift junk yards and garbage dumps. Unknown neighbors became best of friends as assistance, food, tools and more were donated. Communities known mostly as competitors turned into teammates.
In time, the waters that once crested would reside. Many homes, a collection of mobile homes, some businesses and a structure or two came tumbling down. At the same time, some homes, some businesses, and a few buildings were elevated.
Also came the downs of financial distress, immense loss of personal possessions and yes, the potent arrival of a new anxiety of flooding in the future. On the upside, the flood brought new friends and neighbors, the humbling experience of receiving unconditional gifts and even, in our case, a thorough housecleaning down to the literal studs of the walls.
Sadly, our 10-year anniversary comes as Hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc upon the good people of Texas and Louisiana. To the victims, more than our hearts go out to you for relief. Rest assured, if you are at all able, from ones who have experienced some of the same, what will also be going out to you will be our time, talents and treasures helping to aid your recovery.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org