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Joy Sylvester Johnson

My grandson was at school when he heard there was a chance of flooding. He called his mother in a panic, “Mom, go down to the basement and make sure the sump pump is on.” He had been asked by his father to take the boxes of their shared comic book collection to the third level and although he had carried two of the boxes up three flights of stairs, he had not finished the task.

His mother glanced out the window and saw that the creek was already over its banks. Realizing she just had minutes, she ran to the second floor to gather medications and a change of clothes for each family member. She felt the house move as she started down the stairs. That is when she saw the teal living room sofa floating and the piano knocked over as the water started to climb up the stairs towards the second floor. She was now trapped in the house as the water continued to rise. It all happened in a matter of minutes.

She called her husband, my son Anders, who told her to call 911 and to stay put. He called me and asked that I try to get to Cave Spring High School to pick up the twins while he made his way to Clearbrook Elementary to get the younger two children. He had already been told that rescue boats would come after they got folks who were trapped in one story houses to safety.

Once he got the children, he parked across the road on higher ground and waited for the water to recede enough to walk in to help Stephanie evacuate. From this vantage point he could see that the truck, which had been parked in front of the house, had been pushed into a ditch. Even if it had been drivable, it could not be driven out since what was left of the bridge to 220 South was now under water.

The children, waiting in the car could see some of their clothes and toys hanging in trees and floating in the creek which had become a raging river flowing into their house. The stairs and porch as well as the deck of the house were missing.

That night as we gathered in my three room cabin on higher ground further downstream, we realized how blessed we all were to be alive.

It was the next day, as we mobilized to get the water and mud out of the house, that we began to realize what had been lost.

Each of the four children had to walk past the first floor which looked like a war zone covered in more than a foot of mud to get to the second floor to pack up their clothes.

Anders concentrated on coordinating the effort to pump water out of the house. Volunteers from the church and the school and the hospital where both parents worked and the swim club arrived to help shovel mud, haul away debris and load a box truck with what could be salvaged.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we all realized the house could not be saved. All the water that had been pumped out of the house had been replaced with new water from the new creek bed that was now running through the foundation.

VDOT did a great job of quickly restoring the flooded bridge allowing for five days of salvaging. In the end, Anders and Stephanie wearily realized what so many before have learned, “water always wins.” The salvaging operation was over.

While he met with all the people with clipboards I took the younger children to buy coats and shoes. Enroute, ten year old Jillian was saying she felt odd when her teacher told her class about the flood at her house. I don’t know what to say when people tell me they feel sorry for me and give me presents. This was new information for Annalee, a first grader. “I told my teacher about the flood and she didn’t tell my class anything. And I didn’t get any presents. That’s not fair.”

I had noticed all four kids had been like little silent soldiers during the recovery phase, so it was a relief to hear her sense of indignation and later some bickering about who would sleep where in a house designed for one that now was a refuge for seven. The kids would be ok.

The church and two friends started “go fund pages” for people who wanted to help. Anders and Stephanie, who have always been on the helping side of things, were at first very uncomfortable in their new role as “flood victims.” That momentary discomfort was quickly replaced with gratitude as they realized the precariousness of their position. Without flood insurance, they had lost their home, which had been lovingly renovated over a two year period, but they were still responsible for the mortgage on the uninhabitable house.

Each night as they ate food provided by a coordinated effort at their church, they tried to make a plan, but there were still too many unknowns.

No matter where the conversation went, it always ended in the same place, “Thank God we are all alive.”

The Body of Christ showed up for my family just like I had witnessed it happening for so many others in the past. That experience of intercessory acts has been the blessing that has sustained us.

It is with no little irony that I was scheduled to be the opening speaker at the Citizens Climate Lobby State Meeting that same week. They had asked me to speak specifically about how my religious convictions informed and fueled my climate activism.

After retiring from a career where we daily helped people in crisis get to safety, security and sanity, I knew I wanted to spend my last season of life working on what I have come to believe is the most important “preventable” cause of human suffering we face: climate change.

Charged by God from the beginning of time to be stewards of the earth, civilization had failed miserably. But I knew, based on my research, there was still time to change our ways and prevent a global tsunami of human suffering.

I could see that the greatest obstacle was the false sense of security of so many well meaning people. How would they develop the political will needed in time if they didn’t realize the dangerous position they were in?

Climate Change is a scientifically documented reality, which requires a political will to mitigate. Climate should have never become a “partisan” political agenda item because it requires all of us to be vigilant and responsible. Tragically, this message seems to have been lost in the current political landscape where trust has been eroded on all sides.

I have been actively sounding the alarm for some time, but now I do so with a sense of conviction and urgency as never before. I don’t want your children and your grandchildren to experience what my own have experienced.

God has given us the ability to think. God has given us the ability to work. God has given us friends for the journey. God has given us a future. It is up to each of us to use these gifts.

Educate yourselves. The Citizens Climate Lobby offers nonpartisan information on this issue on their web site. Urge your elected representatives on both sides of the aisle to see beyond their partisan blinders to what is fast becoming a global threat. Do a self check to see how you can reduce your own personal carbon footprint. Do not be lulled into the false security that this is simply a coastal problem, a future problem, someone else’s problem or a problem where you are helpless to do anything about it.

We created this and we can fix it—but only if we act now.

Joy Sylvester-Johnson

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