Houston’s Gift

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“It’s your life. You don’t know how long it’s gonna last, but you know it doesn’t end well. You’ve gotta move forward … as soon as you can figure out what that means.” —Don Draper, Mad Men, Season two, Six Month Leave

Dear People of Houston (and thereabouts),

President Trump has said, “the whole world is watching.” And he’s right!

When people say “the whole world is watching,” they usually mean it as a warning. The hippies chanted “the whole world is watching” in Chicago in 1968. They meant it as a warning to the Chicago police.

But when President Trump says “the whole world is watching,” it’s not a warning. It’s praise. It expresses his admiration.

The whole world admires you, Houston. (When I say “Houston,” it’s a shortcut. Forgive me. By “Houston,” I mean everyone whose life was disrupted by Hurricane Harvey. People who lost property, loved ones, pets, livelihoods. And also those who dropped their own concerns and rushed into the disaster to help. You are all “Houston,” whether you live there or not.)

The world admires you, Houston.

Admiration doesn’t replace a sofa or a house. And nothing replaces a human life. Or a puppy.

But admiration is a wonderful thing to have. Especially when the whole world admires you.

You know, Houston, that President Trump’s effusive confidence was the perfect tonic. You don’t need the president’s pity and sorrow. You’ve got that in droves. When President Trump said “congratulations,” only you understood why. You and the president. It was a private message that the whole world heard. “Congratulations.”

Some people asked, “Congratulations? Seriously? Congratulations for losing everything?”

“Mourning is just extended self-pity.” —Don Draper, Mad Men, Season one, Babylon

Those people don’t get it. But you do. Houston gets it. Yes, you lost your house. You lost your school. You lost your car. But you gained the world’s admiration. You gained confidence that you can survive anything. You gained awareness of your strength. Strength you never knew you had. Strength that had never been tested. Strength that those head-scratchers can only wonder about.

But you gained the world’s admiration. You gained confidence that you can survive anything. You gained awareness of your strength. Strength you never knew you had. Strength that had never been tested. Strength that those head-scratchers can only wonder about.

“You’ll tell them that it didn’t work out, because it didn’t. You’ll tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is.” —Don Draper, Mad Men, Season five, Commissions and Fees

You also gained a new lease on life. You learned that our lives are not really ours. The universe can take a life away anytime it chooses. There’s nothing anyone can do.

But when a disaster visits your town and washes everything away, the old lease on life goes, too. Those left to clean up the mess, like you, get a new lease.

I’ve started over a lot, Lane. This is the worst part.” —Don Draper, Mad Men, Season five, Commissions and Fees

What the world sees when it looks at Houston: strength, community, pride, work, and love.

President Trump used the best words on Saturday: love, wonderful, love, wonderful, congratulations, and thank you.

“It’s been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing. I think even for the country to watch and for the world to watch. It’s been beautiful.” —President Trump, Houston

Those of us in St. Louis and New York and Tennessee admire you, Houston. We admire, but do not envy, you. You have taken the nation’s burden of division and violence on your broad, brave shoulders. Rescuer or rescued, you solved our problem for us. You showed us how it’s done.

You showed us the way. Not with words. Words are cheap. You showed us with your actions. And just two words: “Follow me.”

The Cajun Navy. The US Coast Guard. Police. Firefighters. Volunteers. Nurses and doctors.

You didn’t tell us about your “principles.” You lived them.

“Sheep don’t bring their owners grass to show how much they ate. Instead, they digest it and produce milk and wool. Similarly, don’t make a show of principles you live by. Instead, live by them fully and show others by your actions how much you have learned and made it your own.” —Epictetus. The Good Life Handbook: Epictetus’ Stoic Classic Enchiridon

Houston, you have so far to go. But, as President Trump said, the water is disappearing. The water is going down fast.

Not fast enough, it seems. And, soon, your plight will be forgotten. The world is fickle. A new news cycle needs a new story. To feed the media money monster.

While the world’s attention will wane, the world’s admiration remains. It’s how we’ll repay the gift you’ve given.

But you, Houston, don’t need our praise. You don’t need our flattery. You have what it takes. You have the right stuff. We’ve seen it.

Houston, you have a future.




Also published on Medium.