I flew out for a long-anticipated trip Italy with three friends the first week of October. We took off on a Wednesday thankful to leave behind the impending hurricane warnings and paid little attention to the flash flood alerts for Columbia.
Little did we know we would spend
the better part of our trip watching international news reports showing deadly
floods sweeping away friends' homes and devastating our hometown.
We stayed glued to international
news feeds. We watched our friends' usual social media posts about kids'
activities become hourly missives of who needed help where. One friend showed
up in a yellow raincoat on international CNN. Yet another was interviewed on
the Weather Channel. National news correspondents broadcast from neighborhoods
where just days earlier I'd been riding my bike.
For several days, I struggled with
finding right word to describe what I kept seeing and hearing from the people back
home affected by the flooding.
A recollection of an experience
this summer prompted me to find the right word
. . .
A couple of days after the
Emmanuel Nine shooting in Charleston, I happened upon an impromptu prayer vigil
on the State House grounds. I was hot and sweaty from a bike ride so I stood on
the periphery of the group that started out as mostly college-age African American
Within just a few minutes, the
group swelled with people from all walks of life who were drawn toward the
crowd the same way I was. I soon found myself pulled into a prayer circle while
holding hands with two strangers and singing Amazing Grace.
Standing there in that circle of
strangers sharing sadness and hope, I realized that grace was amazing in this
…grace shown by the shooting victims'
families as they talked of forgiveness without strings…grace as they
courageously explained how their loved ones wouldn't want them to live with malice
or hate in their hearts…grace in encouraging others to do the same.
In Italy as my friends and I
watched street after street of our hometown being washed away, I realized it
was grace we were witnessing over and over again. Grace was the young mother
who wanted to find and thank the strangers who rescued her family knowing she
had lost everything. Grace was the teenager who was evacuated from his own home
but went back to help others escape theirs. Grace was the rescuer who
treated family pets with the same care and respect as the people he was carrying
from their home.
In the hours and days following
the flood, news stories out of Columbia could have been of our first responders
dealing with looting and crime or people with a "poor us, it's not
fair" attitude. Social media posts from families who lost everything could
have leveled blame or complained about their plight.
But there was none of that. It
was pure grace.
Within hours, people dealing with
flooded basements that would have been a major issue just days earlier were out
helping strangers find clothes, water and lost pets. Teens were trekking from
house to house in the devastated neighborhoods helping any way they could.
Children were delivering water, home baked cookies and encouraging messages to
We heard people who lost
everything say over and over…"we will rebuild….others weren't as lucky as
we were." "My family is safe and that's all that matters." They
weren't whining about why this happened to them. They weren't blaming or
complaining. They were in a place of grace.
While everyone's faith and
courage to communicate that grace originated from their own hearts and
experiences, our community showed a common humanity that was humbling and
inspiring to watch from afar. Everyone became part of something bigger. I have
no doubt that this generosity of spirit will be what gets our hometown through
the struggle of recovery from this storm.