The current Washington news cycle and most primetime news shows will lead you to believe that our country is at a point of irreversible and ultimate divide. While this point is true in some ways, it can lead us to forget that in other ways, we are all more or less the same. We all struggle, feel, and experience life in the same way.

On Friday, Aug. 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as the first Category 4 hurricane to hit the United States in over 10 years. It covered an area of 20,000 square miles in the first 72 hours of its lifetime, and continued to force over 30,000 Houston residents out of their homes because of mass flooding and effects of the storm. It was, by all accounts, an unprecedented hurricane with its surges and rainfall striking Houston, large parts of southern Texas, and the gulf coastal land from Corpus Christi to Louisiana. A once-in-a-thousand-years rainfall event, Harvey dumped over 40 inches of water on Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana over the course of four days.

To see the city where I’ve lived my entire life ravaged by Harvey was unbelievable; to be there in the heart of Houston as it faced one of the worst disasters in its history was surreal.

Harvey hit every part of Houston. It didn’t discriminate based on race or class or political affiliation. In this way, the natural disaster eliminated the elements of our society that so often play a role in discussion and in our discourse. It equalized people, taking away semblances of difference and division. Everyone was hurt, and everyone is still hurting. 

The response to Harvey by the citizens of Houston was all-encompassing, far-reaching, and universal. People with boats or other watercraft came out in masses to go into severely flooded neighborhoods all over the city and rescue those trapped in houses, on roofs, or in floodwaters; residents from all neighborhoods brought food, clothes, and supplies to local churches, schools, shelters, and other makeshift rallying points. Houstonians, like my own family, volunteered at the mass shelters set up by the city and local non-profits in the days after Harvey in order to staff the mass efforts of relief response. These were Houstonians and Texans from all over, all hurting and all helping. These were humans helping humans out of empathy for pain and devastation.

In this way, Harvey pointed out the simple truth that people of all backgrounds have good in their hearts and the natural, pure touch of hope and community to help their fellow citizens in times of struggle. People have the will to change things on their own by doing the simplest, most basic acts for one another.

This summer was especially turbulent for our country in terms of the divide felt and experienced by many. The stark juxtaposition of the events at Charlottesville that occurred only less than a month before Harvey stands loud and bold. The nation saw the racism and evil wickedness of white supremacy and white nationalism alongside images of neighbors helping each other, of human helping human irrespective of any sort of difference. From this contrast we should all realize that this sort of racism, this sort of wicked contempt for the other, is learned and fueled by society and the people around us. It isn’t natural, and it isn’t inherent to us.

When we face extreme hardship, social barriers are broken down, and we are left as people with no resource other than each other. The massive chaos of Harvey equalized its victims in a way that no other event could, and forced us to realize that we are humans of the same struggle and the same sorts of circumstances in the end. In the simplest of ways, we are all humans, connected by that simple fact.

Harvey came and passed in a hurricane season that seems to be far from over, with the series of strong systems that continue to appear and gain steam, and our political climate has reverted to the voices pointing out our vast differences as a nation. While we do have differences and monumental problems to overcome, let’s not forget that in the most chaotic times, we all worry in the same way, and we all have to face the same sorts of issues that affect how we act and how we cooperate with one another. When our entire city is underwater, we all have the same fears, the same struggles to live through. Let’s not forget that we are all humans, connected even in the slightest by our shared lives.

Kaveh Badrei is a sophomore from Houston, Texas. He can be reached at kbadrei@princeton.edu.

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