The National Catholic Review
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Living in a flood-prone suburban area, I know firsthand the devastation and damage water is capable of causing. I grew up dealing with floods—of the sewer-water variety—pitching in, when I was old enough, to assist my parents and siblings in the massive clean-up. We used brooms, wet-dry vacs and shovels to move the muck-filled water out the back door from our basement.

On one occasion the water level was high enough to seep through an oven door. (We had a kitchen area in the basement in those days and ate most of our meals downstairs.) Out, of course, went the oven along with the small fridge and other items. Each flood over the years brought certain loss, so we eventually had a barricade built between the outer and inner doors hoping it would hold off rising sewer water headed to our basement door.

Nowadays, still here in my original home (which has been continually renovated and redecorated), I find myself listening closely—and with trepidation, to be honest—when weather forecasts call for heavy wind-driven rains. It is then, for “protection,” that I light and burn pieces of palm (reserved from Palm Sunday) in a small container. ‘Tis an old Irish superstition, methinks—but I’ll try anything to escape Mother Nature’s fury.

Unfortunately, nothing could have helped on the morning of Aug. 8, 2007. When the rains came, I watched from an upstairs window and within a matter of minutes lost sight of the top grate of the nearby sewer plate. It was beneath the rising waters. Again helplessness, despite my having fortified the back door. In no time, neither the barricade nor tons of towels (and prayerful, tearful pleas to God) were of any use. Over three feet of muck and water inundated my lovely finished basement. Outdoors automobiles were floating all over the place.

FEMA sent crews and industrial-strength equipment to help with the cleanup afterward and the removal, over a period of days, of discarded items from each house on the block. I lost thousands of dollars worth of belongings in a heartbeat. I submitted a detailed list, with price estimates, to FEMA—but, alas, after their two visits to my home and letter exchanges, my own and my neighbors’ appeals were turned down.

Among the many items on my list: a brand new high-rise, a recliner, a stocked cedar chest (which actually floated across the room), a computer station, expensive luggage, cabinetry and an entire bathroom wall, which nearly collapsed.

But among the most saddening losses were a large box containing dozens and dozens of hand-made (by my aunt) Christmas tree ornaments and a carton of photos and family memorabilia. These were priceless and irreplaceable. I felt violated. Of course, as I contemplate the destruction and displacement endured by millions of families not only in the United States but across the world, I know my situation is far from dire. I keep that in mind whenever a flood threatens my little world.

I learned a lesson on that August day. The flood, in a way, forced me not only to clean up but to prioritize items according to need and importance so I could place them safely. It also taught me to treasure the valuables I still have (some photo albums in the garage, for example) and be grateful to the Lord for my personal safety, the sturdy roof over my head and, equally important, the solidarity we neighbors experienced among ourselves. Everyone reached out to assist others, especially single homeowners like myself, even as they battled their own messes. There are no barricades between us. And that, in my book, is a real treasure indeed.

Patricia A. Kossmann is literary editor of America.

Comments

PETER TIMMINS FR | 9/24/2010 - 7:07pm
Hi Patricia:  I harken back to those days when at Doubleday and at the behest of Jackie Kennedy you took a look at my book "Nothing For Granted."  You said, "where do you teach, Father?"  I knew tat at hat moment I was dead! But you were very kind in your final appraisal and I sent you a picture of me and my dog after the fasion of the one of Fulton Sheen and his lamb on your office wall!
Well I am 76 now and retired more or less.  I have a novel on KINDLE ...THE FOURTH VOW...and still doing some weekend parish ministry. I always enjoy your contributions to "AMERICA"...    Can you imagine what the right to that title is worth today? 
So I just wanted to say hello...and suggest you move to higher ground!  God Bless. Fr. Peter Timmins    ptimmins@cogeco.ca      (I know this is not a comment but hope they will forward it to you)

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