Saturday, July 09, 2011

Welcome the Wild Geese

Apparently there are flocks of wild geese enjoying the water that laps over the porch & window sills of the family house on the banks of the Souris River in Minot, North Dakota. I saw a couple photos today. The street sign was helpfully in the middle of the flood waters. Otherwise it’s hard to tell. One neighborhood under flood looks kinda like another, one shocked human, counting the losses, pretty much like another. Cats perched on rooftops—well, they look like cats. That one is a dead ringer for my old cat Perdita, but Perdita left this life years ago.

I wait for word from my brother and meanwhile chat with strangers, witnessing the unfolding of drama, connections, & concern from hundreds of miles away via the online stream of a family run North Dakota TV station.

I’m not from the Magic City myself, though my kids and I spent the summer before my mother’s death there at that now flooded house, and my brother has lived there since then, more than a decade now.

So I ask questions, and there, instantly, people tell me what they know. People trying to figure out their own futures—how to clean clothes for their newborn, where to go for clean drinking water—tell me how the mail is being delivered for the flood refugees, where the shelter is, how to find photos and information specific to my family’s neighborhood.

Lots of online hugs & encouraging words are exchanged. The TV newscaster has evacuated his 4 cats & doesn’t quite know when he’ll get to go back to his own submerged home.

He stays on all through the night. 11,000 people were evacuated. The waters are still high. Of those 11,000 most were taken on by friends, family, and strangers. Churches on high ground converted extra rooms to temporary homes. Some hundreds sleep on cots at the Dome, my brother presumably among them. When there are stories from the Dome I watch eagerly, hoping to catch a glimpse of his profile, a moment in the background. To know he’s really safe.

It makes me think of the thousands throughout this world who are separated from loved ones, who have no clear lines of communication. I’m lucky. I know this flood caused no immediate deaths. I know there is not—as in Japan—an unstable reactor in the process of meltdown. I know that—although there are certainly many soldiers on the ground—my brother need not fear them. I know no drone is likely to hit the shelter in which he sleeps. And I can send word out, however tentatively, however randomly, and know that, perhaps, word will reach him.

A kind stranger let him use a cellphone to call our Mississippi brother, the one who sold his cows because of the long drought.

Tough times all over. But I can’t sit remembering my mother or the house or the watercolor paintings my uncle did, the small family treasures floating somewhere through the floodwaters, the little birch tree, the lilies of the valley.

The wild geese look really content. And I’m impressed with the city, with the warmhearted reaching out to others, the kindness of strangers and the determination to survive, to do better, to have hope.

As I waited for word of my brother and the flood, two in person conversations struck my heart.

The first was an exchange with a young travelling girl who asked early in the morning when I opened the shop. I told her, and she waited patiently, and then came in—yeah, I opened up a bit early. She needed some water. I showed her the spigot and told her to be careful of my goldfish, and said “I’m sorry you had to wait; you should have just told me, I’d have been happy to show you right then”
And she said “well, I know businesses don’t like to have people like me hanging round.”
Nonsense, I said, you’re people. Period. And you’re just fine.
But I wondered at what hurts had proceeded our encounter, what insults, how many rejections.

The second came at an official meeting at which a colleague said “well, you’re an extremist” I looked at him, asking what that meant. He said “You believe this town should treat everyone as if they were human, welcome them with respect and kindness and open arms.”
“Yes,” I said.
“But no where on earth has that ever happened. How can you think that it could happen here?”

Well, I said, we always need goals…We can’t be stymied by “it’s impossible” or “it has never happened”.

And if we’d welcome the wild geese, we can welcome our brothers and sisters. Wherever, however we find them safe.

(the beautiful photo is by someone named, obviously, Ed Porter. I hope he doesn't mind my borrowing it.)

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