Things move fast and urgently in an operating room early on a Monday. The churn of events and flood of people in the hallways are wondering why the nurses are standing holding hands right there in the surgery suite. A dozen family members are hoping for comforting words while a dozen feet away across a couple of gurneys, eight surgical nurses have no words at all, struggling to process the loss of one of their colleagues, apparently shot down dead by her husband right there in front of the kids. Feels like a hole in the eye of the circle with enough emotion to swirl a hundred miles out and around. Hurricane, indeed.
Florence ground slowly from the coast across the sandy flats up and through the rolling Piedmont and is now picking up speed on Interstate 81 like a northbound trucker. The winds could have been a lot worse. But this was a post-modern storm following no pattern at all, inexorably overflowing norms, breaking rules and making entire communities uninhabitable.
Hurricanes are about as big a show as nature puts on. What could be bigger? It turns out that jet streams and oceans are; even a tiny twitch in the speed or warmth of either one and you get the deadly meandering of storms like Florence. When the driving currents collapse, the flood isn’t far behind. So why would a hurricane behave in such an odd and deadly manner? Why would a democracy just forget to bother to follow its own rules anymore, chasing its own inevitable slow collapse? Why would we just forget to try to stem the tide of guns, now so over our heads that any pissed-off husband can just blow away the one they probably still loved? Surgery can’t stitch together what’s broken in this world. Hurricanes, all.
What to do?
Don’t look away.
Don’t look for the answer on a screen.
What can a nurse do as their own heart is breaking for a friend they loved? Form a circle, hold hands and feel the blood and spirit pumping. Let a few tears out, have a chaplain murmur a prayer. And then go scrub in to help someone else.
Last week before the deluge, TC and I went by the Forsyth County Democratic Party headquarters where Eric Ellison gave us our street assignment and over the next two hours knocked on 96 actual American doors. Being 2018 we only met 7 humans. One of them had become a citizen after immigrating from Spain two decades ago. Another grew up in the neighborhood 50 years back. We asked our fellow citizens to remember to vote, now in less than 55 days. A few thought they might want to volunteer, too, so we’ll follow up on that. Heading to higher ground door by door.
Anyone with a brain bigger than a 22 caliber slug knows it’s probably too late to stop global warming, the collapse of democracy or gun violence. All the data tell us so. But what parent, brother, or daughter would not try? What sentient mammal would not at least stir and try to get their kids to higher ground?
Our hospital has one of the worst parking lots built since the model T rolled out of Detroit. Dark, low ceilings and always oddly damp. The other day I was hurrying to my car and almost knocked down a woman standing in the middle of a lane looking this way and that, glancing down at the paper in her hand. I asked if she needed help and I thought I saw tears of gratitude. The real problem was that her eyes were dilated and she couldn’t even see the paper in her hand, much less her grey Toyota in the grey parking lot. I could help. In spite of my ordination, she trusted me enough to let me do something and we ended up circling six floors in my Mini Cooper, both squinting until we found the car. Probably wasn’t a great idea to let her drive away!
If you look up from the screen in your hand for a bit, you’ll notice people around you, doing this or that, going about their lives. You can’t know if their house is under water, their best friend dead or scared to go home. You probably don’t even know those things about people you work and walk beside every day. You have to make eye contact.
Last Spring my daughter Lauren, now a mom, watched with us all on live TV as Parkland high school students fled from their building, learning shortly that 17 of their friends were dead inside. She writes plays,“so instead of closing my eyes and thinking back to being a junior and watching the news in horror curing my AP US History class and thinking those poor mothers and please god someone do something about this… I posted a query on Facebook asking for help with this play in the wake of this new violence.” Her friend and fellow theatre activist Christina Wallace reached out immediately, read Natural Shocks, and said “Let’s do this.”
Lauren contradicted Hamlet; “the play is not the thing. You are. Your community, your company, yourself. Any play is just the metal that attracts the lightning. We are the lightning – actor, artistic team, audience, community. We are the undeniable force of nature that will light up this darkness and change it forever.”
More than two hundred theaters of every sort and size did the play, including the very best performance in our own Green Street United Methodist by the brilliant Mellissa Jones. Next month a full production of the play will open in New York, keeping the movement going.
That’s how it works. Most of us are not famous. But when the hurricane hits, we move and don’t quit, not when people we love are in high water.
On November 10th the See2See Road Trip will begin making eye contact with about 3,300 miles of people beginning in San Diego with the 100 Million Healthier Lives annual meeting and then the American Public Health Association with our Public Health Law friends. That afternoon we’ll grab a bite at our friend Heather’s home up the coast, then winding through friends and strangers in San Bernardino, Phoenix, Tucson and El Paso where Dr. Arvind Singhal is teaching his band of positive deviates (seriously, check out his book). Then over to Abilene and Lubbock before landing with the friends at Baylor and Parkland in Dallas. Over to Floyd with the astonishing Redeemed Christian Church ….. and over to Little Rock, a hugely creative node in what’s coming next. Memphis, down to the Delta for a nod to the very first community health clinic and activist Fannie Lou Hammer, over to Chattanooga, Cherokee, Hickory and Winston-Salem. Raleigh for William Barber, John Hatch at Shaw University. We’ll ending our discovery where the surge from Florence met the flooding of the Pamlico Sound in little Washington.
We’ll make eye contact with people finding the way to heal their communities. That’s what movements do: they make eye contact, grab hands and move. That’s how the P2P movement is springing up everywhere, ditto Stakeholder Health.
You could just get on the web and watch famous people saying really smart things about it all. These days nothing is quite so urgent as to look at another human and ask about how they are hoping to heal, themselves and the ones they love. For that matter, why are you still reading this? Go talk to somebody, put your hand in theirs and go find somebody who needs you both.