The Humanity of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

by Caesar Rentie
Vice President, Pastoral Care Services
Methodist Health System

We’ve seen it time and again. When the very worst happens, the very best in humanity emerges. The aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma spotlight the goodness and kindness of those who selflessly pitch in to help others in need.

Over the past few weeks, this phenomenon has been demonstrated again in Houston and Beaumont, across the southeast coastline of Texas, and throughout most of Florida. The sheer size and scope of the tragedy and the resulting need to help is almost too much to comprehend. But in this era of instant news and ubiquitous cameras, the stark reality of the thousands of people suffering is brought vividly into our living rooms.

As a hospital chaplain, I have been gratified to see the realization that treating the whole person involves addressing body, mind, and spirit. I see pain, suffering, and grieving every day. Often a patient or loved one needs a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and a comforting word that offers hope and helps them heal spiritually. Thinking about these hurricanes and my role as a chaplain, I have pondered what lessons I have learned in the hospital setting that can be applied to help those hurting in Texas and Florida.

Watching volunteer boat brigades rescue strangers from rooftops, seeing thousands of good-hearted souls offer assistance to those at evacuation centers, and hearing the amazing news of the outpouring of financial and material support from thousands of people across the country and around the world has reinforced one of my core beliefs — think about this — we have more in common than what makes us different. Disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma highlight who we are as human beings. It’s that humanity that makes us vulnerable.

As devastating as this destruction is, perhaps there’s a silver lining — we need to recognize we are all caring people. When rescuing others, we don’t stop and ask what their politics are, what their religion is, or what ethnicity they represent. There is no judgment. We just reach out to help those in need. Period.

Let’s learn from this and take it forward. While we may have our disagreements, we must remember our humanity to help others in several ways:

  • Hear each other and listen compassionately even if we disagree — especially when we disagree.
  • Realize that one person alone doesn’t hold the answer. We’re stronger when we work together.

While the victims of the hurricanes are directly suffering, in reality the whole country is watching and being touched emotionally. I know from my experience working in healthcare, many of the first responders are propelled by adrenaline that keeps them focused during the crisis. For them and others, the aftermath of emotions eventually takes over, which often means relationship and financial strain as people start to realize the full impact caused from the storms. It’s not uncommon to see a spike in divorce, rates of addiction, and even suicide.

So what can we do to help? Our role as spiritual caregivers is to help others work through their feelings and manage questions such as:

  • What am I really feeling?
  • How can I use my faith to rise above my fears?
  • What does it mean to be vulnerable?
  • How can I come to grips with the reality that some things will never be able to be made whole again?

Answering these questions and others will help people work through their feelings and grieve. Then we can help them move to a new sense of resolution and hope.

Based on my experience and training, here are three things all of us can do to manage stress from disaster or critical situations when we feel an emotional overload due to things beyond our control:

  1. Never underestimate our humanity. Did you know that 99 percent of our DNA is the same? We have huge opportunities to share our humanities with each other.
  2. Share our gifts. It’s going to take all kinds of people coming together to help make Houston, southeast Texas, and Florida whole again. Evaluate what each of us can do to help.
  3. Give love in the spiritual sense — the kind of love that seeks creative redemptive goodwill in humanity. We need to bring that love to the workplace, to our families, and to the world in general. It will create an environment where we all can move forward together.

If you’re looking for a place where humanity for each other and our patients is at work each and every day, then look no further than Methodist Health System. Visit Jobs.MethodistHealthSytem.org.

© Methodist Health System

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