I tried to save a baby squirrel two days ago, in the midst of Hurricane Harvey.
I found him in the mud, right below his nest in an oak tree in my backyard. His big paws and and fluffy tail were submerged in the liquid muck, making him appear an aquatic creature. With the help of my daughters and an amazing comrade in my life, we quickly delivered him safely into a box as we googled, “How to save a baby squirrel.” Heating pad, check. Non-terry cloth fabric, check (their claws get stuck in towel-like materials). Investigate for injuries, check (a few bad, bleeding scrapes on his leg and tail). Get him warm and then feed a homemade formula of water/sugar/salt, check.
We all felt pretty confident in the squirrel's recovery. We named him Bob. And then we added a middle name, Bob Harvey, after the storm that shook him from his home. It seemed like a good omen, really. After a few minutes in the box, he started to move around and his drenched fur began to fluff up. And, as soon as the first bit of sun came out the next day and our neighborhood was no longer under an evacuation notice, we found our way to the only open store for miles, a Dollar General, and got supplies for our house and a medicine dropper for Bob Harvey.
And with gloved hands and hopeful hearts, we fed him out of that dropper. To our amazement, he screeched and opened his mouth like he would for his mother, his head up, his eyes closed, his little claws grasping tightly around our fingers. He seemed more like a bird than a squirrel. It made me think about how we know nothing about the sameness of all creatures. The weird, wobbly lines we draw around what we consider to be different, when really all along, we are completely and totally mostly the same.
In any case - and this isn’t meant to be sad or depressing, for there is something beautiful ahead - despite our efforts, Bob Harvey passed away later that evening. We gave him a good farewell in our backyard, walking in the dark in mud boots and listening to classically tragic funeral music. I looked over at my girls, eyes tired from the stress of the days before, and my little one started to giggle uncontrollably. It was just so perfectly absurd. We each said a little bit to Bob Harvey and threw some dirt in his grave one by one, knowing that we were really saying goodbye to a storm for which the real work was yet to come.
And as I drove to the grocery store today, on the phone with my friends whose houses were entirely destroyed and who are displaced for months to come, I couldn’t help but feel what so many in the country are feeling: Swirly confusion around how to be of service and a deep feeling like we simply are not doing enough to help. Every single person I know, no matter the personal drama they might be experiencing, is doing everything they possibly can to help. HELP. Beyond what you can even fathom, Houston is helping. We don’t even care when shelters say, “Hey, no more help needed.” We find another one. Heck, some folks open their own shelters. We keep donating and calling. We keep offering our homes and cooking.
So, going to the grocery store on a sunny day with the pavement drying up and cars commuting to 9-5 jobs while TONS of people are without the basics of life ... yeah, it all felt really really really inane. I’ve heard it called survival guilt, but honestly, I don’t like that. I think instead it’s a generous moment for us to remember that when push comes to shove, we all would do anything for humanity. And in the wake of the social disturbances that have plagued our world for the last weeks (and months and years), this moment in Houston is one we need to hold and name. Because whatever is rising up here is exactly what the world needs. And we need people to summon it not only during natural disaster, but during ALL disasters, especially those related to the despair of the oppressed.
I found it interesting today, that on local television, Ted Cruz was stating that this is a time for us to forget our differences and simply help everyone in need. And I thought, huh, how is this different than poverty and mass shootings and institutional racism and and and? How come when it comes to those issues, we can't see human suffering the same way as the suffering from this awful storm? How can we, in the confrontation of those issues, let people drift off into the destruction they cause - and have caused for hundreds of years? How can we choose when to help and when to divide, when suffering is the issue?
Houston is proving that there is no choice and that human beings don't, at a basic and pure level, want to have to choose. We want to be healthy. We want to be safe. We want to be whole. We want our families to healthy, safe, and whole. And, most importantly, we want to be connected, engaged, and purposeful. There is a right side and a wrong side. The right side is love. The wrong side is fear, learned ignorance, materialism, and the completely escapable prison of the bondage of self. Period.
It is that easy: Where there is human suffering, we will help to cease it. We will cause no harm.
You are a seriously powerful action-oriented human. And the amount of amazingness that Houston is modeling is encouraging because we are seeing what all leaders in the civil rights movement have echoed for generations: Every person, every action counts. I mean, this is so overwhelmingly true even the George R Brown Convention Center, with over 9,000 evacuees, is having to turn away volunteers.
We are a helping species. We’ve just been distracted by stress and life for so long. We’ve been like honey bees without a hive. Ants without a marching line. And this awful storm has ushered in a reminder that when we hive-in and march-on, we can do the impossible and we can do it quickly.
And, so, when we're all faced with this terrible sense of helplessness and the drive to do something - anything - I also think we need to focus on the core of what engages the gift of human action and what hinders it. So, whether you are near or far, the next right step in helping is taking a good look at yourself. How are you broken? What are putting in front of your journey to engagement? In what areas are you harming yourself and others? Are you being dishonest and, if so, do you have the courage to slay that dragon and be true? Can you become willing to feel the brunt force of change within the whos, whats, and whys of who you are? What are you fighting for and are you supporting your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in that?
So, as I sign off from this post and get back to galvanizing my own helping hands and community, I remind myself and you: Repair in every way you can. Find the erosion in your life and heal it, immediately. Don’t live with holes, become whole. Be courageous enough to be with your brokenness so that you can claim what all humans deserve: To be healthy, to be connected, and to be in action.
I’ll be honest and say that prior to Hurricane Harvey, I was experiencing a massive ordeal in my personal life that leveled me to the ground. It stood over me and shook it’s angry fingers at me and told me, “Enough.” And I have no more excuses to hide behind, and I no longer want any excuses even if they became valid. Enough is enough. Time for change. I am as broken as you, and you and you and you. And that brokenness is like a fog in the landscape of showing up. You might think you’re operating fully, but without clarity, you can only do so much.
Let’s stop waiting for angry rock bottoms and hurricanes and start now, so that we can do the work the world and mother nature is asking us to do. So that, like Houston is demonstrating, we can say YES, I HAVE A BOAT, CAN I PICK YOU UP? YES, I HAVE ELECTRICITY, COME SLEEP IN MY BED. YES, I HAVE FOOD, COME EAT AT MY TABLE.
Don’t let helplessness be the feeling you sit with, let it be a pause that births action. Go heal yourself as the next right step.