Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
– Song of Solomon 8:7
In this column, I write a lot about dating and marriage relationships—but there’s another equally important type of relationship that gets a lot less publicity: community relationships and the power of neighbors and friends to lend a helping hand in times of trouble.
I was in England, finishing up the first session of the Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship when I first heard about flooding in Iowa. On June 12 and June 13, I scanned page after page of increasingly scary photos on the internet—our neighborhood stores and restaurants submerged in muddy, dirty water—and received dozens of emails from University of Iowa listservs requesting my help sandbagging near low-lying buildings and helping to remove rare books and manuscripts from the basement of the main library that was in danger of being flooded.
My friends and colleagues sandbagged each other’s houses, to protect them from rising waters. Several of us sent out emails offering our high-ground houses as refuge for those who had been forced out of their homes. The volunteer spirit was alive and well. I was 3,000 miles away and wished I could be there to help, but I was so proud to be an Iowan as I saw news reports of the incredible efforts going on in my town.
Close to Home
Cedar Rapids, the larger town about 25 miles north of Iowa City, was even harder hit and had less warning before the waters cascaded into the city: The courthouse where my husband worked was flooded up to the second floor, and the judge was holding court in a local mall. The downtown businesses were submerged. By June 14, fresh drinking water was increasingly hard to find, and those folks who were still living in town were cut off from electricity, food and other supplies.
And let’s not forget the farmers who have lost their entire season of crops, and the animals who spent days wading in unsafe, unclean water.
The floods hit close to home in another way: June 21 was to be my sister-in-law’s wedding day. Anna was getting married to her longtime boyfriend, Jeff, at a small church outside Iowa City, and then we were going to have a reception at a larger venue in downtown Cedar Rapids. On June 13, the roads completely flooded, making the route to the church impassible. On June 15, the reception venue owners told us that they weren’t sure they could get back on their feet—and provide drinking water and food—in time for the June 21 wedding.
Anna is one of those people who always puts others first. She’ll demur from the spotlight and downplay her own accomplishments to let someone else shine. It broke my heart to think that her special day might be flooded out. But as I said some prayers for her—and the thousands of others hard-hit by the floods—I remembered that beautiful passage from the Song of Solomon: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”
As the days went by, the waters began to recede and the sun came out. On June 21, my sister-in-law was married in a beautiful ceremony. It seemed that everyone was all the more excited to celebrate with them, as if celebrating the rebirth of the entire area. And I glanced at some of the church material before the wedding began, I smiled: There was that same passage from the Song of Solomon. It was one of the mottos of the church.
The cleanup efforts are still in full force here in Iowa, and Missouri and other states along the Mississippi River are bracing themselves for similar flooding. I pray that the community spirit stays strong in all these communities, and that the floods can’t drown the love we feel for our neighbors in times of need.
If you are in an area affected by the floods in the Midwest, email me at email@example.com and we’ll post some stories. The Red Cross has been doing wonders helping out in Iowa—and volunteers are gearing up to head south as the flooding continues. To donate, visit http://www.redcross.org