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Yes, we'll gather at the river.

At a certain stage the words are drowned by surging waters, no words wide or deep enough to match the revolt of the Mississippi and its family of river. All we can do is chase random fragments floating on the country's consciousness, fragments of explanation or consolation or hope, like debris on the water.

It's a good river, must not forget that. Only doing what comes naturally. And the water is good water. And clean until mixed with our sewage and garbage. People swam in it for, probably, thousands of years.

If they wanted to be coy some could say it wasn't the same river then, echoing the philosopher who allegedly said you can't jump into the same river twice. Are the banks the river, in other words, or is the water the river? And don't say it doesn't matter. Missouri farmers know it matters.

This is probably how the story of Noah and the Flood got started. Our forebears took a hit from nature. Unable to wrap our imaginations around the catastrophe, we made it a myth, explaining the river and ourselves to ourselves.

And have no doubt, this calls for explanation. Why this river?

And why me? And why were some noble while others were rotten in the crisis? And where is security? And why did God not make rivers straight in the first place? Psychologists and other healers will he answering such questions long after the waters have gone.

Fragments. Words on the wing caught by NCR on the phone.

"St. Martha's Church is fine ... however, a lot of damage to the land ... town is under 30 feet of water," said Fr. Michael Murphy.

"One gentleman was helping to clean up at the church, he had a heart attack and died," the priest in another town reported.

Fr. James Conroy from Davenport, Iowa: "A sister from St. Bridget's of Ireland has put a cross from Ireland on her door. The legend was, if you put it on your door, no evil would come to the house. Hers was the only house on the river that wasn't touched."

Other fragments: "The National Guard is here at night. ... There is no protection at all." And people will be people. "It's hard when you've spent your whole life building something. ... They have no toothbrushes." In Illinois, a levee broke in, of all places, Pope Creek.

Thirtysomething dead at press time. Billions of dollars damage. Lives changed forever. It should not belittle their heartbreak to mention that bigger floods happen in less fortunate lands, where levees are less formidable and death tolls immense -- faraway places like Bangladesh or India or Africa, we have usually been too busy to notice. Should teach us to spare them a thought.

Fragments from a homily of Fr. John Bertogli in Coming, Iowa: "People have asked me if all these events are sings of the end of the world. Some claim we are experiencing the third secret of Fatima, which speaks of the end of time.

Others say ... the story of Noah where there were only sinful people inhabiting the earth ..."

Wrote Bertogli: "Sometimes, when tragedy comes, it is easy to spiritualize the situation rather than to act in a concrete way." He suggests tough medicine: "To offer what is our surplus, our leftover dollar bills or small change, is a serious injustice to the love of God and neighbor."

Yes, it's easier to spiritualize the situation. Like this. We have seen a million sandbags on television. Have you ever picked one up? Were you shocked by the weight? People lifted thousands of these, put them down in fragile walls by the river, walls of hope; people, often, who would not work five minutes overtime or speak to you on the street, now handling endless sandbags often for complete strangers.

What is this? A remnant of some prehistoric solidarity? Some kind of love? Christianity? If we could figure out what was at work here, we at our occasional best, we could bag it and build that old wall of hope around the world.
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Title Annotation:spiritual impact of Midwestern Area floods
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 30, 1993
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