By Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright
It was a beautiful day in Houston. Assignment completed, I wandered over to photograph this scene — a hat tip, I thought, to Texas resilience, humor, and the triumph of the human spirit after Hurricane Harvey. As journalists, we are taught to seek these things, to find shards of light in fields of black.
Sometimes you have to let go of your heroic narrative and let truth speak. It’s hard to hear, and this was no different. When I met the homeowner, I could feel the tears imminent, the hopelessness evident. I could feel the weight of everything that was crushing her.
I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. This level of intensity never gets easier. These aren’t heart-to-heart interviews. These are raw, metal-meets-metal soul scrapings. I rarely ask questions; I usually stash my notebook in my pocket. Because it’s not about me.
People have a great need to tell their stories. To have someone look them in the eyes and say, “I see you. You are not invisible. I hear you. You are not forgotten. I believe you. Your truth matters. And together, we will hold these truths to be self-evident.”
This was her third flood. I did not ask why she stays, because it is her right to live where she chooses, and she owes neither me nor anyone else an explanation. For her, this yard, this house, this oak tree, is happiness. I see a clever sign. She sees birthday parties and prom date photos in the front yard. She sees her children’s tiny fingers and toes and smells the sweetness of walking in the front door with a brand new, fragile life in her hands. These things are not easy to leave.
But leave she will. She’s tired of holding her breath and watching the water creep up the wall. She’s tired of picking up the pieces. She’s tired of going through this. She’s done with it all.
This is not the narrative I expected to find. But it is the narrative that needed to be told. It is the subtext of every disaster story you will ever read. For each person that stays, another leaves. For each person who finds strength, another falters. There are silver linings and heroes’ journeys. But sometimes, there is just truth. And sometimes, that’s enough.