Right now, the US is kind of a mess. Texas is still drying out and cleaning up from massive flooding. A huge wildfire is burning large swaths of forest and homes in Oregon. Over a hundred small earthquakes have hit Idaho, in an area not used to earthquakes. An enormous, category 5 hurricane is headed for Florida. In our own small world, a fierce windstorm knocked out our power this morning. If you look only at these events, it seems like mother nature is angry, as if Hashem is bringing natural disasters to us for some reason.
And yet, in some ways, this is bringing out bright glimmers of hope.
I was watching a video this morning about the Cajun Navy. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they’re a group of volunteers from Louisiana that come to natural disasters in that area with all kinds of fishing boats to rescue people in floods. Apparently, they do a lot more than just that, big as that is. They feed people, help remove waterlogged building materials and debris, and truck in supplies. Their history, though, is what was really fascinating. The Cajun Navy as an organized group was founded after a period of great unrest just a few years ago in Louisiana. There were riots and shootings, mostly due to racial inequality. The people were very divided with anger and pain on both sides.
And then, as if things weren’t already bad enough, the flood came.
This flood caught everyone unprepared because it wasn’t connected with a hurricane or massive storm, just rain that fell without stop. As a result, many people were trapped in their homes and not prepared for the devastation. People from all backgrounds came together, with boats and food and whatever they had, to help their neighbors. No one cared about skin color, gender, or any of the other things that had divided them before the flood. They only thought about trying to help each other through it. After the flood, they found they had formed friendships across these boundaries that lasted longer than the flood damage. They began to trust each other again and feel safe to open themselves up to people different than themselves.
This is how the Cajun Navy was born and this is the same growing group of people who now went to Houston with countless fishing boats to rescue people they’d never met.
It occurred to me that what might look to us like a divine punishment, a devastating flood, might just be the bitter tasting medicine a community needs to move past their differences and divisions and come together. As these disasters have descended upon the US, we’ve seen people forget about political disagreements and ideological divides and instead focus on seeing each other as simply other human beings in need of help. Sometimes it takes a disaster to shake us out of our illusions and help us find the better part of ourselves. It’s when things fall apart that we realize that we’re stronger than we thought we were, that we’re more resilient, and that stuff really isn’t that important and neither are our disagreements.
Yesterday, I wrote about this week’s parsha, about blessings and curses. Today, I wonder at the Kabbalists’ words, that divine punishments are just more goodness, more carefully disguised and I begin to wonder if curses are simply the bitter medicine needed when the promise of blessings has failed to cure us.
May those in the path of these disasters be kept safe and brought comfort and may we all wake up sooner to our better natures, without the need for further medicine. Thank you, Hashem, for having so many ways to help us be the people You made us to be.