Sunday, September 3, 2017

Humanity's Gift

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.― Dalai Lama

Typically, I am a very focused writer.  Each post, for the most part, contains ideas and strategies focusing on improving teaching, learning, and leadership.  I often talk about accountability, evidence, and efficacy. This post will not follow that recipe. Please excuse any grammatical mistakes. 

When I began writing this post my house was being pelted with a wind-driven rain from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey.  By the time I actually got around to posting this piece on my blog the Houston area is still drying out. This has now been the worst flood in the history of the United States.  Having road out Hurricane Sandy in New York City back in 2012 I can say that this experience was worse.  In just 57 hours Harvey went from basically nothing to a Category 4 hurricane, the strongest to hit Texas in close to 50 years. The flooding and damage in the areas where the storm hit is unimaginable.  

We received approximately 28 inches of rain in just two days. Things down here were worse than what people were seeing on the news. For a 24-hour period Saturday into Sunday, there were non-stop tornado warnings with a bunch touching down in our neighborhood making sleep difficult. My kids slept in the closet for two nights as they were scared to death. All roads in/out of our community were flooded, so we couldn’t get out if we wanted to. I was outside constantly draining my pool as the surrounding drains wouldn’t have been able to do anything with the water.  The pool could have flooded my entire house from the back.  On Monday morning the water was only a few feet from our house. I wasn't worried until then. We have a lake on the left side of our house as well as one in the front.  The lake across the street had spilled over and merged with another lake.  All I could do at that point was pray for the rain to stop. Click HERE is you want to see a video from the early stages of the storm. You can also view some storm picture on my Instagram account

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Late Monday afternoon a river began pouring into our section and the forecast wasn’t looking too good. Water levels kept rising. Since the water was only a few feet from our doors we decided to seal them using a method that one of our community members recommended on Facebook. One of our saving graces were the local Facebook pages in our community offering support, advice, and needed humor to take our minds off things.  The lake to the left of our house eventually breached.  We moved all important stuff to the second level. We had friends with boats who could get us out if needed. It was terrifying to know that no matter what you did it would not be enough if nature had its way.  

Monday night we planned for the worst. However, our prayers were answered Tuesday morning. Even though it was still raining the water began to recede. We had 33 inches of rain while south of us had over 40. We felt blessed and extremely lucky at the same time. Both airports were still closed at this time and flooding to the south of us had turned catastrophic. My hope was that the water had receded enough so I could get out of my community and help in any way I could. Finally, later that day I was able to begin to help those in need in my community. Thanks to my neighbor and his truck we made it to the grocery store to buy needed supplies for displaced families. As we were buying supplies people in line began to chip in. I began to shake and held back tears.  Humanity was beginning to rise to the occasion.

By Wednesday the water in the community I live in had receded for the most part. Our efforts were now focused on helping those around us who were not as fortunate. I teared up when I arrived at the local church with supplies and saw there was a line to drop off items. More people were volunteering across Harvey stricken areas than were needed. We saw (and are still seeing) people step up and work together regardless of race, ethnicity, political affiliations, sexual orientation, and whatever other conflicts arose in the past. Now that's humanity at its finest. Some people were surely wondering why I was posting so much about what I was specifically doing to help. It's pretty simple - my hope was that my small actions would inspire more people to take action and help. I told people on Facebook not to be proud of me for doing what was right. Be proud if a movement results. 

Shana White shared this on Facebook, "Our character is revealed to others by the fruit we produce. Adversity usually provides more character and transparency than comfortable times, but they both provide a true indication of who you are. What kind of fruit do others see from you?" Life can't always be about what we do for ourselves. It has to be equally about what we do for others. Will you step up?

Thursday was a physically exhausting day. It had been 6 days since the hurricane hit and many homes that took on water just had it recede. A bunch of us from my neighborhood drove 30 miles south to hard-hit Richmond, TX to help out the father of one of our neighbors. I in particular wasn't ready for the scale of the flooding. Watching it on TV and then seeing it in person are two different things. Mountains of debris littered the neighborhood. However, what you saw were people from all walks of life coming together to pitch in and save homes.

While I was there I kept getting email notifications that brought me to tears (again). Friends, former students, and neighbors had begun to send money to my PayPal account. This all started the a day before when a member of my PLN asked if he could send money for my supply runs. I never asked for any money to be sent and still haven't, but you cannot deny the human spirit.  I used some of the money to buy pizza for the entire neighborhood where we were helping. This was made possible thanks to the compassion of others. There is so much good in people. This is my big takeaway these past few days. I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring for me, but I do know countless more people near and far would rise to the occasion to help. 
There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”  ― John Holmes
By Friday I couldn’t believe it had already been a week since the storm hit. This was the longest seven day stretch of my life. After helping out my neighbors with a flooded home the day before I took to social media at night. Twitter was used to build awareness and share information about where donations were needed. Facebook had been a godsend in terms of identifying people who needed immediate help. I learned of a few families who lost everything. Thanks to some generous donations I was able to purchase gift cards for clothes/supplies and hand delivered them that morning. 

On my way back home I saw local CFISD schools doing a “fill the boat” fundraiser. It's always great to see students, teachers, and parents rallying together to support the needs of others. The rest of the day was spent working to save flooded homes. Many homes were still flooded and couldn’t be tended to and the majority of Texans don't have flood insurance, which makes the situation much worse. My neighbors and I formed our own little cleanup crew. We were able to hit two different locations. What was awesome to see was how local cleanup crews from across the greater Houston community formed. Social media was being used to organize and dispatch teams to specific addresses. I even learned of a new app called Zello that many were using to coordinate efforts. So many people took off work and time away from their families to help people, many of which they didn’t even know. It was a humbling experience to see many people use their privilege for good.   
"Remember that the happiest people aren’t those getting more, but those giving more”. - H. Jackson Brown
As I continue to write I cry, something I did quite often all last week.  My family was relatively safe throughout this ordeal, but the destruction just a bit south of us broke, and continues to break, my heart.  The local news showed non-stop destruction that was unfathomable.  It also brought to light the countless stories of heroism, bravery, relationship building, service, empathy, and unselfishness. Thankfully I was home for this ordeal.  I work with some incredible people at the International Center for Leadership in Education and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Even though my flights to the Northeast were cancelled I wasn’t going anywhere even if they weren’t.  I had the peace of mind to put work and travel on the back burner to be here for my family.  You can’t put a price tag on that.  

All week I was bombarded with texts, calls, emails, and social media posts from friends and family all over the world.  People I barely know or didn’t even know at all took the time to reach out. No one really knew what we were dealing with and how bad the flooding was in my community.  As I posted daily updates on my Facebook page more and more people offered prayers and support.  Through it all everyone asked what they could do to help or wished they were in a position to do more.  The fact of the matter is if you made the effort and took the time to reach out to anyone impacted by this storm then you did all you could do.

My wife and I can't thank many of you enough for all the thoughts and prayers that were sent our way. The days since the storm started have been excruciatingly long and nerve-raking, but the messages of hope and optimism helped us get through this even though the recovery effort has a long way to go. As all the messages of support flew in so many people asked what they could do. My response was simple – “You’ve already done something just by showing you care.”  Showing you care for anyone here in TX was all anyone could do from afar. One of humanity’s greatest gifts is empathy and showing others compassion, no matter where you are

It was refreshing in particular to see social media used for a greater purpose other than just pushing out ideas, articles, thoughts, and resources.  I developed a greater appreciation (and at times cynicism if we are being honest) for how Twitter in particular was used.   When you look at life through a completely different lens you see things that you never realized were right in front of you.  By putting work, personal issues, and politics aside just for a few minutes many people rose to the occasion.  They modeled the most enduring characteristics of humanity and helped countless people (including me) get through this horrific ordeal.  This might be the most important life lesson we can impart on our students and continue to learn ourselves.  

Life is a gift. Together we can learn to better appreciate this gift. We must use our various forms of privilege, including digital spaces, that many of us have not just during catastrophe’s like this, but also in other cases when we are compelled to do the right thing. There is more LOVE here than water. You can't go anywhere any not see it. Love conquers all including any differences we have that might seem insurmountable. This is humanity’s gift. 


  1. Eric, thank you for this blog. I shared your other one with friends on FB and with our staff; I'll share this one, too. Our teachers are discussing how we can make a difference. How might we help the schools in the area, and where would we send any supplies or contributions? Thanks for all you do for others.

    1. A lot needed to be said, especially in terms of how people are really rising to the occasion down here. The best way to help schools it to check out specific needs on this Google Doc

  2. Amazing insight, Eric. I can't imagine the scale of destruction you saw. Yes, Sandy was bad up here...but didn't
    get anywhere near the horrible destruction people in your area just faced. Thank you again for keeping us all informed. Now we
    have Irma heading to the US...hoping Texas is safe from more destruction as well as all our neighbors to the
    south. That includes my brother in Miami.

    1. Thanks Susan. So many people from New Milford have reached out during this ordeal. It is really a special place. Hoping and praying that Irma stays away from Florida.