I live in Calgary, Alberta. Generally, it is a pretty easy pace to live in. It s an affluent place driven by natural resource riches. It is a small enough city to remain friendly and approachable, yet still have sufficient amenities and culture to allow it to be described as enriching. We lament the weather here, but not much more than most Canadian cities where there is always something meteorological to complain about.
Until June 21, 2013. The first day of summer. The first day of the worst flooding this City and region has seen since the dawn of Canada. 100,000 people displaced, thousands of homes destroyed or damaged. Billions of dollars of losses. Years of rebuilding ahead. Lives and families forever altered.
All of this is true, and for each of us we find ways to engage the tragedy of it all. There are always options. Lead. Follow. Get out of the way. Do one or do all three. What got me thinking about this choice has been a strong sense of guilt for not just being out there and digging into the need.
I have led. As a senior leader within an organization it has been important for me to support the team and ensure their safety. There has been contingency planning and taking action on urgent requests. There has been coordination of roles and communication.
I have followed. I have listened to the local media and understood what was asked of citizens to smooth the course. I have made financial donations to the Red Cross and gathered clothing and household articles to be given to agencies to distribute them. I have taken action to minimize my impact on a very strained infrastructure.
But mostly I have just gotten out of the way. I have heeded the requests to stay off the streets and to let the emergency services teams do their jobs. There is great need for people to volunteer their time and energy to the cleanup. And thousands have. The stories are amazing. Thousands of people showing up at the local football stadium to be assigned to work crews. So numerous that many were sent back home. Food tents being set up to feed the displaced and the volunteers. People heading out to evacuation centres to provide comfort.
And I have felt guilty for not being among them. Why? I’m not too shy to be present with strangers. I’m not bothered by hard work or mess. I have put myself into more demanding situations in the past. Why not now? I know there are probably many reasons here. Not small among them for me is the feeling of despair and unfairness I feel for those who are suffering that I find hard to override. But I don’t think this was it.
I think what was truly afoot was that I didn’t feel called to that work. I was waiting to feel compelled to do something. There is a fourth option and that is to simply act or do.
It had not happened until six days after the flood when I got together with my friend Louse Gallagher and we began to discuss her work with the homeless population and supporting agencies in Calgary. Louise is incredible in this space. She understands homelessness and related to homeless people like no one I’ve ever known. We discussed the impending crisis in homelessness that the flood will bring. Flooded basement suites. Shelters out of commission. An influx of unskilled labour attracted to the upcoming rebuilding driven construction boom.
I realized that as we talked that my contribution may just be found in my essential gifts. The skills that I am naturally drawn to. Facilitation of plans and consensus. Building new ways of doing known things. So Louise and I agreed to do just that and have begun the process of engaging with her to find new ways forward.
I’m now energized by this, and in moments of contemplation realize that I am not leading. Nor am I following. And I am certainly not getting out of the way. I simply act. I do what I have been drawn to, and in doing so will contribute the most.
I suspect this is true for many/most of the volunteers. They too have been drawn to where they believe they can maximize their contribution. In talking to others I’ve realized that the feelings of guilt are not unique. People feel guilty for not helping enough. When they are helping they feel guilty for neglecting their families or jobs. They feel guilty for being spared.
Let’s understand that we didn’t choose to be impacted or spared. There is no shame in either. What remains for all of us is to contribute the best of what we have to the collective well-being of our community.