The media are touting it as Salvation Saturday here in Australia, or more specifically, in south east Queensland. For the last few days, the region has been overwhelmed by what for many are the worst floods in recorded memory. Today, as the floodwaters recede in most areas, the recovery begins in earnest.
Television reports have switched from showing devastation to reporting on how people are getting normality back. It’s going to take a long time. Houses have been underwater up to the roof, all belongings swamped. A thick layer of stinking silt covers much of the state. The search for 20 missing people goes on, and the grief for almost that many killed is nationwide. The media was going house to house yesterday asking people how they felt; a redundant question, really, when you think about it. Many people are learning their insurance will not cover the damage, and most have lost close to everything they own.
But something is happening, something wonderful and perhaps a little unexpected. People. People are happening. People who haven’t been affected are coming out of their homes and heading to flood drenched areas with brooms and boots. And, amazingly, even people who have lost their own homes are helping others. TV reports are showing teams of folks cleaning out one anothers houses, and surprised homeowners confessing that their helpers are people they’ve never met before. And it’s not just a few people…it’s thousands. This morning, television reports showed busloads of folks being dropped off at registration centres, volunteers all wanting to help clean up. People wearing boots and carrying their own brooms; grannies, little kids, mums and dads and tradesmen in high-visy vests. And it’ an amazing thing to see. A week ago, we had a city, some towns, a few villages and streets, people defined into the organisation of their dwellings and businesses…but what we see now is something else. What we see now is community.
An the the media seem so surprised. They report this phenomenon as if they expected people to be as fragmented and selfish now as they might be in everyday life. They seemed to assume to find folks holed up and whining in their individual compounds, refusing help or to help, lamenting the loss of their trappings of prosperity. But of course, that’s not what’s happening. People are leaving their houses and going next door and helping someone else. They are holding strangers by the shoulders and saying “I’m so glad you’re all okay”. They are grabbing their brooms and mops and wandering into the house next door and starting the work. They are setting up BBQ’s on street corners and feeding each other with sausages on bread. They are no longer just people who live near each other, they have become neighbours.
Perhaps the thing that is surprising is that if prosperity divided us, made us selfish and self-centred and individualistic, it’s been adversity and the loss of all trappings of that prosperity that has brought out the best in people.
Once were people who lived near each other…..now are neighbours. Once were cities, towns, streets…now are community.
Truth be known, I’m a bit jealous of those helpers. As I sit here on the sofa a thousand miles away, wondering if I should have another cup of coffee or move to the deck to read the paper, I wish I was there. I wish I had the opportunity to be swept up in something bigger than myself, to show my mettle, to feel caught up in the urgency of needing to help others in their darkest day. I know it’s that feeling that someone else needs you that makes you feel truly alive, truly human.
Congratulations everyone. You embody the very best of us, and we are proud of you.