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Life Comes to Brook Hollow

Sept 2008

by Michael O’Brien

My neighborhood here at Brook Hollow is usually pretty quiet. Most of my neighbors are elderly, so the only busy moments are when home health care workers change shifts. But this morning I awoke to a strange sound…children at play. I thought I was still dreaming but peered through the blinds to see some new vehicles, and a small swarm of children triking, biking, and riding electric toy cars around the center of the cul-de-sac. It was nice: they were making the loud sounds children at play make while their parents, looking a little tired, stood by watching.

My guess is that they drove all night to make what is usually a two-hour trip from Houston, Galveston, Beaumont or Port Arthur. The afternoon and evening sky last night had been filled with unusual sounds of military aircraft, and it just occurred to me that these visitors were part of the evacuated population of the Texas coast. Last night our sleepy little town was full. Lines at the gas stations, empty shelves at the stores, like a game weekend but on Thursday.

Being relatively new to the hurricane experience, all this disruption is very reassuring amidst the weather channel’s nonstop anxiety about the coming storm. The local paper is advising us to be ready for 100 mph winds and maybe a foot of rain. But the lines at the stores and the noise in my street mean one good thing. This is a safe place…people are evacuating and being evacuated to Bryan and College Station…not from it.

It’s a remarkable thing to see the photos of the interstate being cleared for counter flow (all lanes moving away from the coast) and hearing about the heroic work being done by the national guard and local volunteers. They had no choice but to begin setting up yesterday to be ready for the people who would arrive throughout yesterday and today. I spoke with one young man who was in our building in uniform. I wondered how he might feel if after all this work of building tent cities at the airport, on campus and in the park, if no one came. First he shrugged and said that in the military they do a lot of training that they don’t always see a purpose to. But then he said it was a good thing for him yesterday as it helped him “live with purpose” to be working for us (citizens) on the anniversary of 9-11.

I felt sad most of yesterday for a lot of reasons: Tyler’s second trial was over, but I still won’t ever get to meet him, the to-do list at work was bigger than the got done list, and I was remembering, feeling the collapse of the towers. When the attacks happened, I was at school sharing an office with Jim. We sat dumb-struck watching the plane hit the second tower. Knowing that hundreds of lives just ended. Just like that. Then to see what as a building science teacher seemed impossible, to see the towers fall; I felt physically ill and had to go home.

When a building falls, when a building fails, it’s like the failure of four to five thousand years of human accomplishment. Not just technical accomplishment, cultural, societal, educational---it all fails at that moment---in that instant. I think that’s part of the reason why conquering armies of prehistory would knock down walls and once inside tear down and burn the buildings, a way to underscore that they had succeeded and those inside had to pay the price for their own failure.

I didn’t know anyone in the WTC, but you can’t help but think of what was going on inside during the minutes between impact and collapse. Thousands trying to get out: people helping people keep up the long journey down a smoke filled stair and making room for the people moving UP the stairs INTO the fire. We walk the streets with heroes next to us every day. They don’t ask for anything from us except to move out of the way when they’re on their way to answer a call for help.

I’ve put Tyler into my hero list. His simple act saved my daughter. Her acts worked to save him, but like with many heroes, I think she couldn’t save him. Unlike collapsed buildings, when heroes aren’t able to do what they work desperately to do, they don’t get to be rebuilt from the ground up. They have to carry the weight with them for a long time.

Right after 911, my daughter was preparing to move into ground zero to support the SAR teams there. In the end she didn’t go, but with her local EMS responders, pulled extra shifts to backfill for the rescue squads who moved north into New York. So I have two heroes…heroines?…in my family, a source of enormous pride for me and something that keeps me alert when a local hero, an everyday hero asks for something. You don’t question it; you just do it and be happy to help.

So as the storm approaches, thousands of local heroes are being called upon to fly into the storm and pluck someone out of the water. Or to feed and shelter the displaced and water the dogs and cats left behind. If you see one, please say thanks.

Sounds like a tricycle pile up in the cul-de-sac---got to go. Stay safe you-all.