The Low-profile, Underappreciated, Long-haul Heroes Texas Will Need Next

When Texas needed heroes, they were there. First responders, neighbors at the ready, boat owners to the rescue. Often without being asked and sometimes risking their own safety, they waded into the Harvey-bred flood waters to rescue people and pets. They have been cooking meals, staffing shelters, offering traumatized strangers the elemental comforts of a handclasp, a hug.Through journalists and social media, we have seen extraordinary selflessness: A SWAT officer carrying a woman and her baby in his arms through knee-deep water; rain-soaked volunteers lifting an elderly woman, wheelchair and all, into a waiting truck; a man floating a neighbor's dogs to safety aboard an air mattress. There are similar anecdotes in the thousands.It's beyond the power of human calculation to know how much worse this disaster would have been without them. It's frightening to consider - and it's an occasion, in this politically stressful era, to recognize the indispensable virtues of decency and compassion.With Florida staring down the barrel of disaster of its own, Texas is in transition. In the months and even years ahead, we're going to need a different kind of hero. Not better; not worse. Less celebrated, perhaps, but just as necessary. We're going to need long-haul heroes - a lot of them - for Harvey's grueling and extended aftermath. We're going to need cleanup crews, visionary builders, engineers. We will need social workers, therapists, skilled administrators and, yes, bureaucrats. This is going to take a dedicated army of recovery specialists. Governor Greg Abbott - liberated by disaster, in an odd way, from the constraints of rightwing political ideology - has found it in himself to be the leader this state needed in an emergency. You can quarrel with specific decisions - a lot of people think he should have recalled the Legislature to cope with Harvey relief funding - but his performance should earn high grades: sensible, calm, reassuring. On Thursday, Abbott further illustrated his leadership-in-crises chops with an inspired appointment: Texas A&M University Chancellor and longtime Democratic legislator John Sharp as Harvey Czar. As an aside: Lord knows why anybody takes an appointed crisis-specific "czar" job. On the upside, you get a catchy title that looks cool in tweets and cutlines. On the downside, you've got a titanic and open-ended task; even your smallest decision is going to piss somebody off. You will be bounced like a pinball between critics who either think your plans are stingy and heartless or that they're shameless, wasteful overreach. They'll say you're dragging your feet, or that you're reckless. That you're an insufferable know-it-all or an incompetent boob. When you need support the most, the public's grasshopper attention span will have moved on to fresher crises and trendier topics. Politicians will be developing chilly feet about all the promises they made when the water was pouring in. I don't know if Sharp is "heroic" in the classic Odyssian sense, but he has the Texas-bred smarts and perseverance to stick this difficult job. Experienced, determined, and plain spoken ("Calling his expletive-laced conversation salty," observed Texas Monthly in a recent profile about his performance at A&M, "would be an insult to salt"), he's long past trying to pander to politics in this Republican-controlled state. Likewise, Texas is going to need a vast corps of low-profile heroes to back him up. These won't be easy jobs. "Recovery" is not, as many of us mistakenly believe, about putting everything back together exactly as it was. Instead, it's finding the best possible new reality, while recognizing that the trauma itself cannot be erased or papered over. It's understanding that for a lot of people in Houston and the surrounding areas, life is now defined by a clear and permanent demarcation: Before Harvey, After Harvey. The facile term "compassion fatigue" will take on real meaning for government administrators, social workers and mental health professionals. "They deal with incredible needs and woefully limited resources," writes researcher and therapist Martha Teater, who studied the long-term effects of assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina on aid workers. "Many of these workers do not realize how much they suffer along with their clients." We are asking a lot of these people - as much perhaps, albeit in a different way, as we asked of the emergency professionals and rescue volunteers who charged into the path of danger. We're asking them to stick to a hard job for the long haul, far beyond the ephemeral tributes of headlines and public admiration. We want them to deal with problems that are not quickly and easily resolved, to cope with victims whose sense of loss and dislocation will persist beyond cleanup and new construction.That's asking for a lot. In a sense that we too rarely appreciate, it's asking for heroics.  Continue reading...

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