‘Twas the night before a regular Sunday morning on an ordinary weekend in October of this odd-numbered year in a small southern state that has had a complex history from its beginnings in 1776 as one of the thirteen original colonies known as the United States of America . Since that time, the state of South Carolina has survived countless catastrophes including hurricanes and other natural disasters outside its control and unnatural ones like the infamous Sherman’s March in the Civil War which turned entire cities of the state into ashes and destroyed rural areas that were the foundation of an agrarian economy maintained by slave labor in the nineteenth century. Some historians claim this devastation was a retaliation against the state for firing the first volleys at Fort Sumter that ignited the War Between the States. A complex history, indeed.
In June of 2015, a young white gunman from Columbia walked into a prayer meeting at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston on a Wednesday night, was invited to participate in the small gathering, stayed for an hour and then shot and killed six women and three men who were having a Bible study and praying together. Following his capture a video he made earlier showed the racism that motivated this despicable act, a racism symbolized by the Confederate flag he revered. It was an opportunity for the darkness and sadness to overwhelm the people of Charleston and the rest of the state that shared the sorrow of the massacre. It was an opportunity for people of ill will to act out inappropriately with aggression and hostility.
Instead, people of good will in this state and around the nation responded by offering comfort to those who mourned, corporate prayers for the grieving and a groundswell of support for the removal of the Confederate flag that had flown on the grounds of the State Capitol for more than fifty years. Twenty-four days after the Charleston shootings Governor Haley and members of the state legislature removed the flag to a museum where it belonged.
On that ordinary Sunday morning two weeks ago my little dog Red and I walked downstairs from the upstairs bedroom around 5 o’clock for his ritual morning constitutional. We expected Chelsea who guarded the downstairs at night to join us, and she got up from the sofa to go outside when we passed her in the living room. I opened the back door and flipped on the spotlight so that we all wouldn’t trip going down the steps. The three of us stood in the doorway and stared.
A deluge of water was falling from the sky…I had never seen anything like it in my almost seventy years. My immediate thought was the words to an old tune from my childhood: “Didn’t it rain, children? Rain all night long – didn’t it rain?” From what I could see, our back yard was a tiny lake, and my dogs had no interest in swimming. I turned off the light, closed the door and went back to bed.
That was the beginning of what I named the Flood of Fifteen. As the rains continued for days, lakes and rivers within our city overflowed and spilled into neighborhoods five minutes from our house, dams broke, roads vanished, nineteen people lost their lives and thousands of vehicles, homes and their contents were destroyed by raging waters that local meteorologists somehow determined were the worst this state had seen in a thousand years.
Gigantic trees were uprooted because of the soil saturation around them, and they fell onto power lines that had already been buffeted and broken by the flood waters. Water mains broke – the water supply for entire counties threatened and basic necessities like food and shelter for our displaced neighbors and friends became the focus for survival. Candles and bottled water were the first items to flee from the shelves of any stores that could re-open in the first week after the rains stopped.
When our electric services were restored, we watched the local news all day long, and the images were both mesmerizing and frightening. These weren’t pictures of hurricanes in far away places like Haiti. No, these houses were on Burwell Street or off South Beltline Boulevard – they were people who lost everything they owned in a twenty-four hour time frame, and they lived right around the corner from us. Businesses we had patronized for years were gone, literally demolished. For the second time in four months it was an opportunity for the people of South Carolina to drown in the darkness of an overwhelming disaster.
Instead, the candlelight of human connection flickered and then burst into flames as the waters receded, and once again people of good will prevailed. The bravery of our first responders and the leadership of our city, county and state governments quickly made a difference in beginning a recovery to some sense of normalcy. Churches, schools and other community groups pulled together to care for the displaced and disheartened as the sunshine returned, and we were not alone. Teams of volunteers from across the country left their homes to offer support to South Carolinians in need. Neighboring states helped tremendously while President Obama designated the state a disaster area, and FEMA teams were on the scene as soon as they could safely travel to us.
Maya Angelou speaks to issues of resiliency in her own life in one of my favorite poems, and I am reminded of her words as I consider the events of recent days.
Just like moon and like suns,
with the certainty of tides,
Just like hope springing high,
Still I’ll rise…
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise,
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise.
I believe we shall rise.
What a beautifully written piece Sheila. I, too, followed the weather surrounding ya’ll during that time, and, before that, the shootings in the beloved church, such tragedy, and I couldn’t believe what South Carolina was going thorough. I pray that things are better for ya’ll now, but I know Red and Chelsea are
not well, so that breaks my heart. The poem by Maya Angelou is so appropriate. I loved that lady, she was so facinating to listen to anything and everything she had to say. I first discovered her in the late 60s or 70s on the Tom Snyder show. I now have a lot of her poetry and books. We lost a treasure when she
Please keep me posted on how you, Teresa and the fur babies are doing. My love to all of you.
Thank you so much, Billie – it’s good to know that you keep up with me and my family through my writings. I always hope my family in Texas reads the blogs, and it’s great to know you are one of my cousins who stays with us. That means a lot.
Maya Angelou has been one of my personal heroes for many years, and I never knew she was one of yours. Isn’t that wild?
I miss her so very much – both her words and her voice – that wonderfully gravelly voice that seemed to sound like God to me. I went to You Tube and listened to her read this poem again last night while I was writing this piece and thought once more, this woman was one of a kind. You are right. We lost a treasure when she passed away.
I hope you and Fred and Ace are well and happy.
“May you live in interesting times,” the purported “Chinese curse” states. More and more the times are getting more interesting and decidedly more worrying. I wonder if that’s a function of advancing age?
Thank goodness you two, your family and precious pups are safe. What frightening events to live through.
I wasn’t familiar with the “Chinese curse,” but our state has certainly had a challenging year, and the times have been way too interesting. You know The Red Man says nothing good ever happens in an odd-numbered year so we are holding our breath for 2016!
Teresa and I have managed to survive with the help of our children. I really wish you could have seen the look on Red and Chelsea’s face that Sunday morning when I opened the back door. It was like, you’ve got to be kidding me…no way. They couldn’t turn around fast enough. 🙂
Even the indomitable Miss Poppy Seed would be confounded by all that water!!
Let’s hope this remains a once in a lifetime event. AND, the year is drawing to a close.
Thank goodness for the end of 2015…and yes, I fear even Miss Poppy who is totally fearless would have thought twice before going outside that morning.
As always, you are gifted with words and we all feel your pain and distress. May God give you and all of your neighbors strength to return to your normal life and surroundings!
Thanks, Dianne…I really appreciate the kind words and the prayers, also.
I had missed hearing from you, so I hope you and your family are well.
I hate to miss the Roughneck Blowout, but I did send a collection of all of my books for the silent auction. I told Judy I would send a copy of the new one to whoever bought the other ones. I know it will be a fun time, and I am thrilled they are preserving our school in West Columbia.
Much love to you and James,
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Thank you, Bob – you are my alpha and omega.
Luckily for us out here in Camden, we suffered very little flooding and power outages, but we feel for friends and family elsewhere in the state.
And I lovelovelove that Angelou quote.
One must continue to rise, for the alternative is heartbreaking.
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Bob Slatten, I lovelovelove your reading my blogs so faithfully and for including them in your favorites on ishouldbelaughing! I am about to link you to all of my blogs if I possibly can – I think your writing is terrific!
My daughter-in-law has somehow messed up my links and whenever I try to connect to you, her name appears. Young people rule the internet apparently! 🙂
Maya Angelou is a personal hero, and this poem is a personal favorite. Thank you again for hanging with us!! Glad Camden was spared…
Bob Slatten – welcome aboard – you are now in our blogroll – FINALLY!
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Beautifully written Sheila. What an experience to live through. The process of restoration and the sense of togetherness that sustains it is such a noble and powerfully hopeful act.
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Thanks so much, Don. I have been so proud of the response of our leaders and people this past year during such harrowing, horrific events. I am hopeful.
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I watched in horror!! People were good in their responses, amen
Yes, it was a total nightmare, church organist. We were lucky at Casa de Canterbury but thankful people responded like champions. Our love to you and all in Grimes County,
I love the way communities pull together at times like this, Sheila. It really restores my faith in humanity. I’m so glad you all stayed safe xxx
Yes, thanks so much Favorite Australian Author Dianne Gray! It is a testament to the good in us as communities.