On Monday evening, January 2, 2017, around 10:00pm EST, a storm system came from Alabama through southwest Georgia. The height of the event lasted around 30 minutes, with folks who were awake huddling in closets and bathrooms riding out tornado warnings.
That storm, regardless of how it’s been classified, ripped through the heart of Albany, Georgia. It pushed over decades old trees with no more effort than we knock over dominoes, and it had a similar cascading effect. The trees knocked over power lines, crashed through roofs, and laid down our spirits. The storm in its brief visit, left thousands without power, thousands with months of home repairs ahead, thousands without cars, and thousands without a way to get out of their own homes.
The next day brought with it confusion, worry, despair, and a sinking realization that what many thought was just a thunderstorm was actually such a force of nature that some roads would remain impassable for a week. However, the next day also brought with it hordes of Albany citizens armed with chainsaws, yard tools, work gloves, yard clothes, and hearts eager to help. The next day saw churches without power doing everything they could to cook meals for those that also didn’t have power, local mission organizations loading up cars with bottled water, hot meals, blankets, and supplies to send to the powerless who were faced with suddenly cooling temperatures.
It didn’t take long for a Facebook group to be started by people who had power eager to help people who didn’t have power. Amazingly, despite thousands of people being without power, those people were quickly paired with folks that did have power and were to help.
In the city that is often separated by status of all kinds, I saw more cooperation and more fraternity in the last 8 days than I have seen in this city in a very long time. Isn’t it a shame that it takes such destruction for a city to come together and work side-by-side to keep us alive and thriving?
But, isn’t it amazing but it happened at all?
The people of Albany rose to the occasion, put on their work gloves, and started combing neighborhoods for people that needed anything that they could give. We didn’t stop to wait permission from anyone except the homeowners, we didn’t stop to wait and wonder why the city didn’t respond with outside help. We simply saw a need and met it.
It is only in the last couple of days that people have begun asking where help from the outside was…and that is only because we looked up from our chainsaws for a brief respite. It was on the 7th day of recovery from the storm that the governor made it to our city to look. But in these 8 days of recovery, there has been more progress made rescuing, salvaging, reviving, and replenishing our city than there has been here since Albany flooded in 1994. In these 8 days, people have not asked “why should we help?” but “how much can we do?” In these 8 days, residents of Albany have worked shoulder to shoulder toward a common cause, regardless of who we were, are, or will be tomorrow. In these 8 days, we have seen linemen from across the South give up time with their own families to come give our families hope of power once again. In these 8 days, we have been blessed to have a city of servant hearts hard at work to keep hope high.
I am in no way suggesting that our work here is almost done.
There are still many people without power in our city–who blessedly survived sub-freezing nights. There are many who were without power for long enough that the contents of their refrigerators and freezers are lost.
There are many who, if the weather had been pleasant after the storm, would have survived with only damage to their roofs, but because of the rain that occurred in the days following the storm, they now also have to deal with water damage inside their homes.
There are many that lost a century-old trees that lined their favorite streets, or their favorite old, tall pine in their front yard, or the roofs under which their grandparents first lived.
Albany has lost some of its renowned views, particularly the oak-lined streets down the avenues. They are still oak-lined streets, but now the oaks lie on their sides creating a hedge of a different kind on the curb.
But. Albany is getting a reminder of the resiliency that she has, a reminder that the spirit of the city does not come from a house or a tree, it comes from the people that live there.
So Albany, we have a choice to make: We can lift every voice and complain… Or we can lift every voice and sing. We can lift our voices with thankfulness that so few lives were lost, with gratefulness that are neighbors–whether from next door or across town–are looking out for us, with joy that there are those that would give up their weekends and their evenings after work to help without being asked, and with love for our city that we have called home.
Which will it be? How will we, the city of Albany, lift our voices in the coming months? Will we lift our voices towards other folks who are as flawed and as helpless as we are? Or will we lift our voices, our eyes, and our hearts, to the One who designed the storm, the people, and everything in between?
I know what I hope Albany will do, how we will lift our voices, how we will sing. I hope it is a hand-in-hand, jubilant story of triumph over disaster, of love over discord, of hope over fear and despair. I hope we continue to live up to our name: the Good Life City.