Hurricane Fatigue

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While dozens of people died in the Texas Harvey Hurricane flood and thousands were displaced, and while the impact of Hurricane Irma is being tallied at this time, a natural disaster a world away has escaped most of our attention. More than 1,200 people have died across India, Bangladesh and Nepal as a result of flooding, with 40 million people affected by the devastation.

“Enough!” That’s what goes through my brain. Enough. I don’t want to hear about anyone else dying or having their house ruined by a flood or hurricane. Those of us on Long Island who lived through Superstorm Sandy know all too well how weary we got and how long it took (and is still taking) to get things back to normal.

So I don’t want to hear about more floods. We did reach out in generous sympathy to our fellow Americans and immigrants who live in Texas. Levittown and the surrounding communities are quite generous. At Saint Bernard’s alone over $11,000 was raised on Labor Day weekend and was sent to help the flood victims. But facing Irma’s wrath in the islands and in the southeast of our country and hearing about 40 million people affected in a far away place? Too much too soon.

That feeling happens in families as well. Someone is diagnosed with cancer. There is a child with autism. A parent loses a job. There is an unintended pregnancy. We wish someone would stop drinking. A marriage fails. Another friend is addicted to drugs. We are caught up in depression and no one seems to understand. Enough! Stop the flood of family distresses!

One family challenge? We can summon the resources for that. But the multiple floods of troubles that result in fear, anger, depression, hopelessness, blame, etc. are often too much, and friends and family slowly back away leaving us isolated. They don’t retreat because they don’t care. It’s just that they don’t know what to do and if they can’t fix what ails you, they’d rather move on and focus on something else.

Anyone who’s ever been on the disaster side of things, knows that others can’t solve their problems. But they are filled with gratitude at those who don’t back away. Pope Francis uses the term, “the art of accompaniment” to describe the way in which he sees people helping others. He wrote in his letter, The Joy of the Gospel, “Today more than ever, we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility…. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.”

While the native American saying that one can’t truly understand another until he or she has walked a mile in the other’s moccasins is certainly true, Pope Francis suggests that we “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” Just stand with the other. And then walk with the other. Let others know that there is someone who is together with them, that they are not walking alone.

I can’t stop the world’s floods. But I am looking for ways to accompany those who feel that they are drowning. Shall we do this together?

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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