It’s hard to feel confident all of the time. There are now scientific studies that show helping others can actually increase your own sense of confidence and reduce feelings of isolation. It can make you feel more empowered, optimistic, and positive, and remind you just how fortunate you are.
When Hurricane Harvey slammed into the gulf coast of Texas two weeks ago today, we all watched in horror as it slowed and stopped over Houston. The storm dumped record-breaking amounts of rain over an already soaked landscape causing unprecedented flooding.
Here in our little beach-side town of Manhattan Beach, California we felt helpless and frustrated.
Our local high school principal, Dr. Ben Dale (no relation), grew up in the tiny town of Cleveland, Texas 45 miles north of Houston. Cleveland was devastated by the floods which left almost all of the town’s 8000 residents camped out in emergency shelters.
“They have nothing,” Dale said. “They are completely wiped out.” He galvanized our local community by organizing a donation drive. His plan was to fill a big rented truck with supplies and drive it all the way to his home town. By last Wednesday night, kids’ sports teams, community service groups, and moms and dads had enthusiastically filled seven large trucks with new bedding, cleaning, school, and personal hygiene supplies, and clothing for boys, girls, and adults. Local businesses helped out too.
It felt so good to be a part of this effort, and very different from just sending a cash donation (though that is still needed). My son’s community service group, were asked to buy clothes for boys aged between 4 and 16. I headed to Target and chose sport shorts, socks, underwear, and t-shirts for twelve boys. As I shopped and then packed each outfit into a one gallon ziploc bag, it made me think about the kids who would be receiving these care packages. What were they feeling? Were they scared? Were they missing their homes and their belongings? Did they know the rest of the country was thinking of them? Aching for them?
I lost my home in a big storm in Melbourne, Australia in 1994. It wasn’t a hurricane — just a storm that destroyed my house, and a local pier. It happened on a wild grey Sunday morning, tearing the roof from my home, and leaving the walls to fall outwards. My furniture and belongings were smashed by the wind and ruined in the driving rain. I escaped with my dog and the clothes on my back: some faded black track pants, my husband’s old sweatshirt, and a pair of Santa socks — no shoes. Alan was away filming a TV series in New Zealand. He was able to get on the next flight home and spend a couple of days with me.
I was lucky. I stayed with family until I could find a rental home. The insurance company delivered some of my furniture (after it had been cleaned) and some clothes. I wanted to get back to work and needed something other than my Santa socks to wear. When I opened the box of clothing, I discovered that they had returned a wetsuit and my wedding dress — nothing else. I wanted to cry but it was such a ridiculous situation, I had to laugh — then I cried. My sister-in-law gave me some new underwear. I appreciated that six-pack of colorful cotton bikini briefs more than she’ll ever know. It was a precious gift at a time when I was in complete shock.
Because mine was the only house destroyed in that storm, I had plenty of help. I can only imagine what it’s like for the people of Cleveland who have been told that FEMA is overwhelmed by the demands of a flooded Houston. They are stranded with no one to help them. I know they’ll be experiencing shock, and disbelief.
I hope they feel a little bit cared for when the doors open today and they receive their care packages sent with love from our beach town 1600 miles away. Thanks to one of their own, we have had a chance to be part of their experience and have hopefully helped, each in our small way, to lift them up and give them the strength to keep going.
They’ll never know it, but the gift the people of Cleveland, Texas have given to us is to feel more connected, less helpless, and happy to be able to contribute in some way. I guess those are some of the ingredients that equal increased confidence. For me, it’s also a reminder to feel thankful for my dry comfortable home, for the lights that come on when I flip a switch, and for readily available gas and food — especially as the next monster hurricane approaches.