The Cajun Navy’s Fine Hour
In the midst of devastation, as water welled over much of Houston and several other towns, as all preparations for flooding gave way before torrential rains, an awesome act occurred – people came together to rescue one another.
At the height of the rains, there were 14,000 national guardsmen working on rescuing people. And, there were 10,000 volunteers working on the same task.
They’ve been called the Cajun Navy. They’ve been called heroes. Angels. The merciful.
Most of them reject those terms, saying they are just able bodied folks who could not stand by when they knew they could do something.
And what they did was a civilian miracle.
Where the National Guard had the full use of military equipment, amphibious vehicles, high-water ambulances, helicopters, the Cajun Navy had their own boats. Pleasure crafts. Rubber rafts. Canoes. Kayaks. Punts. Rowboats.
They carried people who could not walk, lifted wheelchairs, cat carriers, dog cages and plastic bags full of whatever people could grab in five minutes to help them through.
They used their cell phones to notify the authorities when they had cleared a street, or when they needed help with a situation, or when they needed to coordinate with medical teams to aid the people they rescued.
And a friend said, Wasn’t this like Dunkirk?
In a way, it was. It was an emergency, a do or die moment. It was a triumph of civilian courage and action. The Cajun Navy saved tens of thousands of lives.
No one ordered them to do it. And yet they managed, out of their unrelenting goodwill, to say No to Death’s dark minions. They had not received training in military procedure, and yet they managed to coordinate with the military rather brilliantly.
And the military were flexible enough to embrace them. And the civilians helped the military accomplish what they manifestly could not do alone.
Today I heard a news report where one of the Cajun Navy volunteers was being asked to recount a particularly amazing deed he and his brother had done – and the man took the time he was given to say that this was only the beginning of the need for volunteer help.
He said the Rambo stage (which is what he called himself and the other volunteer rescuers) is ending, but there is a desperate need for carpenters, builders, sheetrockers, people who can deal with mildew, to just come down to Houston and keep an even worse stage of misery from taking over. He had his eye on the situation, not on glory, and not even on victory.
Of course, there were bombs dropping from the sky. The pesky Luftwaffe was relentless. The heroic RAF outdid themselves. And civilians in their own boats arrived despite all of that.
Houston’s bombs were rain, the continual drenching in 90 degree heat that made everyone miserable. Still, it wasn’t war.
And Dunkirk’s volunteer job was finished when the rescuing was done.
Kenneth Brannagh, who in the film plays the Commander, said in an interview, that Dunkirk was taught to them in school as ‘the British Spirit,’ the get-out-there-and-try spirit.
His interviewer, Stephen Colbert, said that here in the US we weren’t taught about it at all. And Brannagh said we had heard about it then, and Roosevelt was so impressed by the civilian heroism that he and other leaders left aside their doubts and entered the war.
So will Houston be the civilian miracle that at last gets Congress to commit to doing something about climate change? Will the Cajun Navy convince President Trump not to slash Fema’s budget, as he has said he would do? Will the EPA, scheduled to get a 30% reduction in budget, be redeemed in the GOP’s sight?
We are about to read a gospel passage concerning arguments – and urging us to keep trying to find a conversation that will lead to acceptance. And it ends with the famous passage, What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever two of you ask in agreement, it will be done for you in God’s power. And wherever two or three of you gather in my name, I will be there among them.
At the end of the Dunkirk rescue, surely no one who had been in it could see any evidence of this effect. Yet now, decades later, we can see how Dunkirk, in its spirit of agreement, was incredibly effective in turning the War’s tide. We can see how those few hundreds, in their utter unity of will and spirit, changed the course of history for millions, and now for billions, of people.
Could Houston be this moment for Earth, our threatened home?
This week I saw The Inconvenient Sequel, Al Gore’s new film about climate change. Watching it while Houston was happening removed any distance I might feel from its message. Really, the film is a prayer. And it is more of a story than the first film, which was a teaching tool.
Do watch it, soon, if you are able. You will see a number of Houstons – devastating floods, in the Philippines, India, Miami. And amazing rescuers who jump into action.
So this spirit is not just American. And this spirit is The Spirit at work among us. But this spirit is also American – the wrapping of our arms around Texans who are at the mercy of the rest of us, for their survival now.
There is so very much to do. And we can, indeed do it. That is what the Cajun Navy, and the civilians at Dunkirk, have shown us. We can do this.
May we not be too short-sighted in what we imagine the Gospel may mean for us. And may we not be too despairing in our work to change the course of climate change.
Perilous times require hope, perseverance, and running the race that is set before us. And when we do this, Death’s minions, Fear, Misery, Despair, all fall. So put on the armor of faith, for the work, and the battle, await.
Image: The Cajun Navy. credit: federalistpapers.org