Houston, We Have a Problem

Houston is all over the news. It’s déjà vu two years later. When Harvey hit in 2017, all three of my family’s households were spared. Considering they live in three different sections of Houston, it seemed like a miracle. I remember making my way down a walking path in my parent’s suburban neighborhood, three months after Harvey, and seeing a distinct line in the top of the treeline. It looked like a layer cake. Two thirds of the trees were brown from the ground up, with rotted debris tangled in the branches, while the top of the tree-line was green and full of life. It stopped me in my tracks for a minute trying to figure out how it came to be. Then I realized what I was seeing was a water-line. Where the trees had been submerged in water was brown and decaying, while the flourishing green above it, was the part unaffected by the flood. I couldn’t believe how high above me it was on that walking path.

That was a lot of water.

Luckily for my parent’s, their house became an island surrounded by water. They were blocked in, on their street let alone the surrounding area, but they were safe and dry. At one point, for about 24 hours, we weren’t sure if we were going to have to evacuate them. If the water didn’t start to recede, the city was going to have to release the dam, which definitely would have flooded my parent’s house. That didn’t end up happening, but it was scary to contemplate the thought of what it would lead to if they did.

Harvey was the “500-year flood,” yet Imelda seems to be his wicked bride. Once again, so far, all three familial households are unaffected. I think this all boils down to luck and the happy coincidence that all of the houses sit slightly uphill on their streets. When you live in a city built on swampland, “slightly uphill” is the difference between safety and disaster.

My parents had been considering moving into a smaller patio home before the time of Harvey. After the flood, they were grateful they didn’t. All of those homes went underwater. They literally would have been sunk. Still considering downsizing to something smaller, they recently visited a friend who moved to a senior apartment complex. The guy is 92 and still an active tennis player. I asked my dad what he thought about the place.

Sounding doubtful, he started with, “Well…first of all….it’s a 55 and over community.”

I wasn’t sure where he was going with it.

His voice rising, he said, “I don’t have anything in common with a 55-year old! That’s ‘kid’ age!”

This cracked me up. It just goes to show, perspective is everything, and it’s always changing, as we are changing over our lifetimes.

I didn’t think he was wrong. He’s in a much different place than someone who is 55. He’s got almost thirty years on them after all.

It would be like living with other people’s kids…since his own kids are almost that age.

Both of my parents commented on how “institutionalized” the complex felt. They felt it was a cold and narrow, concrete slab of a building. They didn’t see another person while there, besides their friend. Visiting with him, he told them how much he loved living there. Gloating, he said, “I’m just glad it’s not full of people with wheelchairs and walkers.”

Said to my parents, my dad sitting there with his walker in front of him.

Retelling the story, my dad said to me, “You know, it really hurt my feelings.”

It broke my heart to hear my dad say this.

I thought to myself, “Shit, who needs enemies with friends like that?”

That thought quickly escalated to, “What the fuck is wrong with people?”

If I had a nickel for every time I thought that.

At the very least, “their friend” is insensitive. Otherwise, he’s just a plain old asshole. Maybe he’s both. How ironic would it be to ask this nonagenarian, “Who fucking raised you? Where were the parents?” Of course, after this long, his words and actions have long belonged to himself.

But I’d still like to ask him the questions anyway.

After that, sort of sad, my dad remarked, “You never really see people in wheelchairs or with walkers out and about. At least, I never do when I’m running errands.

I think my dad meant his generation. In DC, I see people every single day in wheelchairs, with canes or walkers, and more often with “white canes” used by the visually impaired, commuting to work. Commuting to work sucks for most people on any given day. Imagine the handicapped, who rely on the city bus to drop them off at a designated spot, so they can schlep the rest of the way to their worksite amidst all of the other traffic on the sidewalk.

I watch it every day walking to work.

One day, I offered to push a woman down the block as we were headed the same direction. It was such a small little thing to do, but she was so grateful, and relieved. She was tired. A small, unexpected break felt like a reprieve to her.

My dad does a great job getting around despite it all. He has a system that allows him to still show up in the world, despite his limitations. In reflection of his conversation with his “friend,” he said, “Ya know, sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t. He’s still playing tennis at 92, but I’ve got arthritis, and there’s not much I can do about that. Sometimes it’s luck of the draw.”

He’s right. Sometimes it’s luck of the draw.

Just ask anyone with a handicap.

Maybe we can’t choose to be lucky, but we can choose to be compassionate.

I wonder, where has our compassion gone?



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