Hope in the Midst of Despair

Paul - Houston, Texas
Entered on March 2, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30

As I glanced around the streets of Houston, I quickly spotted several Mexican families idle in the shadows, so engulfed by depression that the streetlamps failed to illuminate their faces. “Stay away from those Mexicans and try to get some sleep,” warned my father. I was reluctant to leave, because I believe that nobody’s appearance projects character.

My eyes slowly came into focus as I rose from my bed. I awoke to the pungent smell that had escaped from the refrigerator and engulfed my room. The unbearable heat forced my shirt to tightly hug my skin. “Trust me, the conditions were worse in Vietnam,” my father had reassured me in Vietnamese. My only sense of time came from the occasional glimpse out of the window. Day 3 of the Hurricane Ike aftermath had just arrived, and our house was far from prepared for the blazing heat upon us. The absence of electricity rendered me as helpless as an infant. The radio had forecasted a bleak future, and our family soon learned about the downed power lines that would take weeks to fix. I remember seeing my father calculating our losses and discussing his claims with FEMA over the landline telephone. The idea of living on one meal a day proved impractical. However, watching the beads slide between my mother’s fingers as her lips moved solemnly in prayer provided me with a shred of hope.

Fortunately, the misery of the hurricane gave birth to a new sense of camaraderie. I woke up to the sound of knuckles rapping on my door. Two neighbors greeted me with a warm gentle smile, and bags of ice were suspended from their hands. After an unsuccessful attempt at obtaining ice at the FEMA point of distribution, my father did not hesitate to accept the liquid gold from the neighbors. Minutes later, we were even offered 3 extension cords from other nearby neighbors who had purchased generators. Our family did not know what to think of this sudden, widespread generosity. The 17 stagnant years of silence were finally broken as we regaled each other with our personal stories and hardships. Dozens of families brought chairs outside to unwind, for the pestering mosquitoes could not even hinder this wonderful night. Voices traveled through the air in all directions until the moonlight dominated the night sky. That night, the fellowship that surged through our network of extension cords was what truly powered our neighborhood.

As the next week elapsed, the festivities slowly dissipated. Finally, the advent of electricity abruptly ended the gatherings. Reconstruction and restoration were top priorities now, and I would only spot the neighbors bringing something in their house or walking to their car. I sat in my room pondering over this paradox, that euphoria appears only for the sake of complementing distress. If it took a hurricane to temporarily bring us together, then perhaps the hundreds of dollars worth of damage were not in vain. As of this day, I am now reluctant to judge people I meet. I believe that everyone harbors a spirit of goodwill; it is simply dormant.