Twelve days after Hurricane Florence came ashore nine miles from my house, it’s hard to think about anything else. What have I learned? I mean, besides how to operate a chain saw without severing an artery. That’s easy…
People are uncommonly kind.
And people are uncommonly mean.
And sometimes those are the same people.
If politics makes strange bedfellows, let me assure you hurricanes make even stranger ones. Did you know you can’t volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse, which coordinates humanitarian relief all over the globe, unless you agree to sign a form stating you don’t believe in gay marriage?
Uncommonly kind. Uncommonly mean.
Did you know the Facebook friend you went to high school with who pure-T wears you out with his tired rants about Obama being a Muslim (he’s not, but so what if he was?) is this very minute sloshing around in a remote creek in his jon boat rescuing old people and poor people from low-lying, stinking mud-filled homes?
Uncommonly mean. Uncommonly kind.
Did you know the woman who swore at me on social media for not evacuating because the blood of first responders would be on my hands (I wasn’t under a mandatory evacuation, it should be noted) is now wearing a very unflattering hairnet and sticky latex gloves to hand out plates of food to the hungry and the homeless?
Uncommonly mean. Uncommonly kind.
Right wingers stand side by side with the left-leaning as we silently assemble hundreds of ham and cheese sandwiches to be taken to the linemen who are wading in flood waters and fighting off snakes of the reptile and human kinds to make sure we have our air conditioning and Klondike bars again. That woman who is whipping up a batch of “special sauce” (really just ketchup and mayo) to be slathered on the sandwiches may ask you to “honk if you know Jesus wants you not to kill babies” but, today, the unborn aren’t a topic of discussion. Today, she makes the sauce, her kids will slather it on donated bread—heels and all—and I will marvel that Saran Wrap makes everybody look stupid and inefficient when it winds all over your hands backward.
Politics hasn’t completely taken a break. Donald Trump came by to pass out hot dogs and urged us to “have a good time.” Tone deaf? Sure, but no more so than the friend who complained of long lines at Disney. In both cases, I decided to beat back a normal impulse to trash and dash. For now.
Most of us aren’t uncommonly mean or uncommonly kind. No, most of us fall somewhere in the middle and try like hell to err on the side of kindness. Many times, maybe even most times, we fail.
After four days without power, I drove across town to a grocery store that was letting in a few people at a time. A few doors down, there were the usual assortment of very elderly folks in front of the K&W Cafeteria but they weren’t there for their chicken and pastry and coconut pie. They were being gingerly lifted from helicopters onto the ground and directed to ambulances, if sick or hurt, or school buses, if headed straight to a shelter.
I can’t stop seeing the looks on their faces. Many had just a small suitcase or plastic bag with them. All they could get before they were plucked off the roof on a remote road probably named for their family. A few had their pets in their arms, their eyes as wild as their owners’.
Florence will be with us in Eastern North Carolina for a long, long time. From what I have witnessed, when all is said and done, I have a feeling the uncommonly kind is going to win out. It has to.