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New York City is a great place. But being the most populous city in the US, as well as an international media headquarters, carries with it an over-emphasis upon itself. Take for one example the weather. Think about it: you may be drinking your morning coffee or getting the kids ready for school almost anywhere in the nation but still be able to follow the weather conditions at Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan brought to you by Al Roker and NBC’s The Today Show. That self-absorption is not only at the expense of the middle of the country, but even for areas merely a few hours away from the City.
On the evening of Saturday, August 27, 2011, residents of New York City were battening down the hatches preparing for Hurricane Irene. I remember that day well, for after some impromptu hurricane parties, I returned home to secure the churchyard and facilities including moving inside to the parsonage basement some outdoor pets—or what others might refer to as livestock or poultry—the first time they returned to the inside location where they had been reared as peeps. Throughout the following hours numerous friends extended prayers for us down here in the City, and especially dear friends upstate—Revs. Becky and Greg Town who serve the Reformed Dutch Church of Prattsville—offered invitation should I want or need to get away to higher ground. Hours later Irene made its final landfall on the coast of Brooklyn.
By the next day New York City had made it through the storm rather pleasantly. There was some high water in certain areas but that can happen during any heavy storm. Real damage is little. Here, Irene was more hype than harm. Upstate however, mere hours away, was not the same story. Some of the very friends who had extended invitations of housing and hospitality had experienced within minutes emergency notice of evacuation, devastation to their communities, and destruction to their homes and churches. The storm that brought inconvenience downstate wrought flash floods with five-hundred-year-flood conditions in places such as Prattsville and Schoharie. Approximately one-third of all the houses and businesses in the village of Schoharie were severely damaged or destroyed due to flooding. There were ten deaths in the state, mostly upstate attributed to flooding.
The Revs. Sherri and Michael Meyer-Veen co-pastor the Schoharie Reformed Church in the heart of the village of Schoharie, a congregation that dates to 1720. They had mud and water throughout the entire first floor of their home when the Schoharie Creek ran through their home and church sanctuary. What follows are reflections from Rev. Sherri Meyer-Veen on the three year anniversary of the flood. Please continue to pray for all who were affected and who continue to rebuild.
August 28 will forever be a historic date for the beautiful Schoharie Valley. Someday it will fade into the history books, but on this third anniversary of “THE flood” caused by Hurricane Irene it is still very much a part of our living history. There is a mixed bag of emotion that pours out of me as I feel the weight of this day. There is a deep sadness at the grief and loss we have experienced that is still felt: loss of the community that once was, loss of our “old” way of life, loss of our homes and possessions – many reclaimed, but some homes and most of our first floor possessions gone forever. There is the anxiety of the post-traumatic stress we are all still dealing with in the excruciating experience of living through it… the thousands of decisions that needed to be made yesterday every day, the financial burden, the uncertainty of what the future would hold, the victimization of “the system” as we tried to dig ourselves out and faced roadblock after roadblock, the fear that “I can’t go through that again” that creeps into the remembrance of this day and some of us every time we have a hard or prolonged rain, the grief and loss that we now transpose onto other experiences of trauma in our lives. This is still a part of our living history and we need to continue to process our own feelings, share our experiences together, and listen collectively to each other’s stories – even when they conflict with our own, we need to make room for each other and listen deeply. We need to remain patient with one another as much work remains even though we all have some level of being sick of dealing with it!
The bag of emotions on this day does not only contain sadness, it also contains a deep sense of love, community pride, gratitude, and joy. We are filled with an overwhelming sense of love for neighbor and of being loved by others as the region and nation rallied around us, volunteers poured in, prayers and resources began flowing to assist us in our long hard journey. We saw the ugly for sure, but we also saw the best in people and began creating a new extended community of deep formed relationships forged in the trenches. I still feel and hear in others a sense of inadequacy in expressing gratitude to SO many who helped me personally, who volunteered in the community, who volunteered at church – and donations, and meals, and, and… we cannot say THANK YOU enough! There is deep joy in me of seeing, experiencing, and being privileged to be a part of the best side of the body of Christ in action, humbly serving the needs of this small piece of the “broken world so loved by God” as we say in the Reformed Church in America. There is joy in remembering the miraculous we experienced and the palpable presence of God we felt. There is deep joy in the new community that began forming as community acquaintances became family and new forever friendships rose out of the mud.
There is also hope in our bag. From day one I had the clear sense that “there is hope and there is help,” this shared theme became the recovery motto “Hope.Help.Recovery” and I still feel it. As I talk with my kids about all of it when the PTSD shows up or one of them asks, “but momma, what if it happens again?” we remember together, “God helped us get through it, right?” …and I assure them “come what may, God will help us get through that too.” While my own quivering at the thought creeps in, I still believe and feel wholeheartedly that this is true. It may not be pleasant, it may involve loss, but it is still true.
We live in the hope of a yet to be realized rebuilt community. We hope for rebuilt homes, church buildings, and invested community members. But we also hope for rebuilt lives. We hope, and rest in the certainty of God’s hope, that we can find ways to allow our experience to shape us for good: to continue to bring us closer together instead of farther apart; to continue to help us learn through our anxiety, failures, and successes; to continue to face the tough questions of our lives with more grace and more hope; and to open ourselves more to God as we allow God to speak to us in it.
Whether you read this as a fellow survivor, an unaffected community member, a new community member –physical or honorary – from across the nation, or as one who simply journeys with me as my friend or acquaintance, thank you for listening, thank you for being there! As you feel the weight of this day with me, may you keep lifting it and us all in prayer and may you too find the hope of which I speak.
1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Thanks Tom for sharing. Thanks for your visit and thanks for continuing to hold us all in prayer, as the LONG ongoing nature of disaster recovery is something none of us expected until we were in the midst of it. It is still exhausting and we still need your prayers and support, even three years later. I too chuckle when I recall calling my cousin in the city and asking her if she wanted to come up and "stay safe" with us!
One correction, 100% of the village businesses and 90% of the entire village structures were severely flooded beyond recorded history – basically anything in the flat of the valley and not on a side hill was severely impacted. I think the 1/3 comes from remembering me saying that 1/3 of the members of our congregation were severely impacted, as our membership extends outside of the village :).
So true… …after life lands a punch to your core. If it happens over and again, we become afraid to stand tall lest another blow halve us. Our eyes stay only on the path we can see without lifting our heads. Paces really, miniscule paces that reach only as far out as one moment or this day.
Then we have hope. Our invisible, intangible life-blood. Not believing it's our time and surviving is that first piece.
Seeing others suffered as well or more, we feel responsible TO them to hope. We rely on the comaraderie. The sweat-browed softened glance of a neighbor. We are all still digging out and we each gain another piece when any one retrieves a little of that lost.
We hope for our children, for our friends, because giving up would slap those pebbles of hope right out of their hands.
As we go forward we don't see right away, but we are placing our bits of hope next to our loved one's, to our acquaintance's. We smile and hope grows as we witness the tipping upright of that which has fallen. Then when we finally lift ourselves plumb we notice a symbol of beauty and untethered, unabashed solidarity and strength.
Each person who came to your side, who prayed, and whom you also aided, added to that massive tribute.
Your children will see it in your eyes, and eventually see it in their own. They will come to know they have something invisible and intangible that will never fail them.
No better gift.
May God help us always to bend and not be broken.
I posted this comment first on facebook, but wanted to share it here too!
"Deep appreciation for Tom writing this piece and for Sherri sharing her thoughts. In my own depression after the flood I had a lot of questions: What things might have been like if a celebrity (like Al Roker) were from Prattsville or Schoharie? If we had been "significant" by world standards would the response have been different? Would follow through and follow up been different if we had more numbers? Did people ever consider that 1/3 of our congregation lost their homes, 1/3 housed the homeless, and 1/3 just abandoned the situation entirely because they were so depressed and in need of care that they couldn't cope? It might have been different if we were in NYC. But in the end, I guess I'm glad I'm not. Because I discovered how much small churches and small communities do matter, how much we can accomplish, and, most of all, how much we matter to God. (My thoughts here don't entirely reflect this article, but the article got me to thinking!)"