I took off for a long-anticipated trip to Italy with three friends the first week of October. We flew out on a Wednesday thankful to leave behind the impending hurricane warnings and paying little attention to the flash flood alerts for Columbia.
Little did we know that we would spend the better part of our trip glued to international news reports showing deadly floods sweeping away friends’ homes and devastating our hometown.
We watched our friends’ usual social media posts about kids’ activities become hourly missives of who needed help where. One friend showed up in a yellow raincoat on international CNN. Another was interviewed on the Weather Channel. National news correspondents were posted in neighborhoods where just days earlier I’d been riding my bike.
I struggled for days to find the right word to describe what I kept seeing and hearing from the people back home.
Then a recollection from this summer prompted me to find it.
A couple of days after the Emmanuel nine shooting in Charleston, I happened upon an impromptu prayer vigil on the State House grounds. I was hot and sweaty from a bike ride, so I stood on the periphery of the group that started out as mostly college-age African-American students.
Within minutes, the group swelled with people from all walks of life, who were drawn toward the crowd the same way I was. I soon found myself pulled into a prayer circle, holding hands with two strangers and singing “Amazing Grace.”
Standing in that circle of strangers sharing sadness and hope, I realized that grace was indeed amazing in this situation.
Grace shown by the shooting victims’ families as they talked of forgiveness without strings. Grace as they courageously explained how their loved ones wouldn’t want them to live with malice or hate in their hearts. Grace in encouraging others to do the same.
In Italy as my friends and I watched street after street of our hometown being washed away, I realized it was grace we were witnessing over and over again. And now that I’ve been home a couple of weeks and have witnessed the devastation firsthand, I’m more certain than ever that our famously hot city should more aptly be called “famously grace-filled.”
In the midst of the storm, grace was the young mother who lost everything but still wanted to find and thank the strangers who rescued her family. Grace was the teenager who was evacuated from his home but went back to help others escape theirs. Grace was the rescuer who treated family pets with the same care and respect as the people he was carrying from their homes.
In the days following the flood, the news out of Columbia could have been of our first responders dealing with looting and crime or people with a “poor us, it’s not fair” attitude. Social media posts from families who lost everything could have leveled blame or complained about their plight.
After the flood, a week of great destruction, and greater generosity
There was none of that. It was pure grace.
Within hours, people dealing with flooded basements that would have been a major ordeal just days earlier were out helping strangers find clothes, water and lost pets. Teens were trekking from house to house in the devastated neighborhoods helping any way they could. Children were delivering water, home-baked cookies and encouraging messages to first responders. Help was pouring in from around the state and country.
We heard people who lost everything say over and over “we will rebuild” and “others weren’t as lucky as we were” and “my family is safe, and that’s all that matters.” They weren’t whining about why this happened to them. They weren’t blaming or complaining. They were in a place of grace.
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While everyone’s faith and courage to communicate that grace originated from their own hearts and experiences, our community showed a common humanity that was humbling and inspiring to see. Everyone became part of something bigger.
Watching all of this from afar, I had no doubt that this generosity of spirit would get us through the struggle of recovery from this storm. Several weeks later, I’m even more certain of that.
When not promoting the interests of cities and towns as deputy executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, Ms. Campbell is passionate about travel, writing and keeping connected with old friends; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.