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COLUMN: It takes a hurricane: Kindness should be shown at all times, not just in the storms

Severo Avila

Severo Avila is Features Editor at the Rome News-Tribune.

Have our differences become so great that it takes a hurricane to unite us?

It seems that disasters provide a sobering reminder of how precious life is, how easily ANY of us can be affected by it and how much we really need each other. An earthquake does not discriminate by color or race or sexual orientation.

A flood doesn’t care what church you attend or which bathroom you use. A fire will burn a rich man’s house and a poor man’s house alike. Major disasters and tragedies — from 9/11 to wildfires to bombings in Paris to the Sandy Hook shooting to Hurricane Katrina — brought people together. They’re so devastating that they force us to put our differences aside and ask for help or help those who need it most.

Recently the nation has faced some tough times politically and socially. We’ve been arguing, fighting and protesting. We’ve had bitter disagreements and even riots about our government, about immigration, about monuments, about race and even about bathrooms.

Sometimes it feels like we’re tearing ourselves apart.

But then something big happens — it could be the wildfires that devastated Tennessee or the recent flooding that crippled Houston — something that sweeps away our differences (even if it’s just for a while) and reminds us that we need each other.

It sounds odd to say, but when these tragedies come tumbling down on us is when I always know that we’ll see beautiful things come out of them.

People hundreds of miles away drop what they’re doing and rush to help those in need.

When Houston was flooded by a hurricane recently, a ton of people rushed to help. I saw people gas up their boats and go into flooded neighborhoods to rescue people and animals. Even from here in Rome, lots of schools, businesses and individuals collected supplies to send. And many people went down to Texas to take those supplies.

My friend and Rome resident John Burnette was one of those people. He and a friend loaded up a big ole trailer with all sorts of donated supplies and raced down to Texas knowing people would need them. He didn’t take those supplies down just to people who shared his political beliefs or just to people who share his religious beliefs.

He took them to anyone in need. The flood waters made everyone equal, if just for a little while.

When Hurricane Irma, with all its awesome strength, was projected to hit Florida and Georgia, social media was filled with announcements from Rome and Floyd County residents saying their homes were open to anyone fleeing dangerous areas. It was so heartening to see locals posting photos of friends, family and even strangers who were in town taking shelter and being welcomed with open arms.

And those who can’t physically help, still get online and send donations or offer up prayers and words of encouragement and hope.

We come together when these disasters befall us.

But why can’t we help each other and put our differences aside when we’re not under threat? Why can’t we see each other as brothers and sisters and countrymen in the good times as well?

I absolutely love seeing the videos and images of people helping each other who you KNOW would otherwise be at odds. I love reading those stories about people who had previously been fighting, being forced to come together and depend on each other, leading to at least a basic understanding if not an all-out reconciliation.

But does it take a category five hurricane whipping and churning the sea into a terrible fury to make us put our petty differences aside?

When things are wonderful and we’re not under the threat of storm or war or strife, remember the times that we needed help and someone came.

Remember the times when we saw a chance to lend a hand and we jumped at that opportunity. Remember the times when we could comfort someone in their darkest time and how good that felt.

And most of all, remember that there will be times to come when we might need the help of strangers. Who knows what the future holds? There are storms gathering even now that we can only overcome if we unite.

In times like these I’m always reminded of the quote from John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island”:

“No man is an island, entire of itself

Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.

Any man’s death diminishes me

BECAUSE I AM INVOLVED IN MANKIND

... And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.”

Let’s not only care about each other and help each other and try to understand each other only when times are bad. If we can forget about our differences when the storms rage around us, then we should forget about them when the sun is shining down. And that will be a glorious day indeed.

Severo Avila is features editor for the Rome News-Tribune.