By Tanya Tiger
Last night, I sat in the living room with my husband and five year old daughter, watching the nightly news.
It was a pretty typical evening. Footage of Hurricane Harvey was being shown and the news anchors were interviewing people who had lost everything. I was covered from head-to-toe in goosebumps and, as I listened, my eyes welled up with tears. My heart ached for each and every soul who now had to make the long journey of healing and rebuilding their lives.
My daughter looked over and said, “Mommy, why are you crying?” I told her I was crying for the people on TV, who had lost everything in the hurricane—some even lost their lives. Tilting her head, she asked, “and they’re sad because they lost their stuff?” At only five years old, my daughter has a heart bigger than most adults I know. I could see her gears turning, trying to understand what was happening. She finally patted my hand and said, “Poor mommy, it’s okay.” This simple gesture revealed the wealth of empathy my daughter carries in her heart.
She asked more questions about the people and what had happened. I did my best to explain everything to her, keeping in mind her age. I told her that the water had risen so high that people’s houses and everything they owned was ruined. I gently explained that some people had been lost in the rising waters. We talked about how “stuff” can be replaced but people cannot and, how, even though it was “stuff” that got damaged, that stuff held a lot of memories, and hard work. For some it was their dream that drowned in the storm.
As we talked I could see her mind whirling. When scenes of the shelters came on, she asked “What’s all that stuff?” referring to the cots and tables full of bedding, clothes, toiletries, etc. I explained that other people had donated those items so the flood victims would have a place to sleep, dry clothes, food to eat and ways to care for their hygiene.
I said, “Imagine if you woke up in the morning and everything we have, all of our clothes, toys, TV, food, medicines—everything was washed away and gone. Wouldn’t you be sad and scared?”
My daughter nodded her little head and said that she felt sad for the people too and that we should help them. She asked about giving away some of her belongings to help and we made a donation to the Red Cross. It wasn’t much but it was what we could do at the time. We talked a bit more as I tucked her into bed that night. She asked if the people would be able to go home soon. I told her that, most likely, they would not be able to go back, at least not for a long time. “Where will they go?” she asked. “I’m not sure honey,” was all I could muster as the tears welled up again. I kissed and hugged her good night and wished her “sweet dreams.” As I closed her bedroom door I gave thanks for all of the blessings in my life and said a silent prayer for everyone who was suffering.
Moments like these, when I witness the suffering of others, gives me pause.
Life suddenly comes into focus and I’m able to turn down the usual chaotic chatter of my daily life. Things that normally perturb me no longer hold as much weight. I can step back and see what is truly important. Tragedy has a way of doing that, it seems. People who were arguing a few days ago are suddenly helping one another. Strangers commit random acts of kindness and put their own needs aside to help others. Tragedy transforms us and I’m always a bit saddened that it takes such devastation to bring people together. However, it also gives me hope that we can learn from this and mend our fractured relationships.
Even after the storm passes I hope we can continue to see past our differences, to come together, and rebuild.
People may wonder why I let my five-year-old watch the nightly news. There is no doubt that it is full of some of the most terrible aspects of human nature. It’s also an opportunity to teach her about humanity, overcoming adversity and the importance of paying attention to the world around you so you can be informed and make a difference. I take world events, like Harvey, and make them teachable moments for my daughter. The lesson being learned through the aftermath of this hurricane is one of compassion. I want to instill in her the importance of caring for our planet, caring for one another and overcoming differences so we can do better—not just in times of need but always.
My daughter is no stranger to loss and tragedy. Her younger sister died in 2014 and she misses her every day. I believe her empathy for others stems from this experience. At only five, she amazes me with the insight she has into the human experience. That is why I think it’s important that she learn the stories of others who have overcome trauma. I’m proud of who my daughter is becoming. I am thankful to the people who have stepped up and reached out to help complete strangers. They stand as examples of the kindness and compassion this world so desperately needs right now and, while they may not think they are heroes, they are; not just to those they have saved directly but to those who witness their selfless acts and are inspired to act in kind. They are teaching compassion to every soul they touch. In person or through the TV, their acts of kindness are changing lives.
My daughter is seeing what resiliency looks like, what it means to care about other people, and that everyday people like her can make a difference in the lives of others. It’s a lesson I hope she carries with her, always.
Editor: Dana Gornall