The rain just wouldn’t stop.
When I lived in Kansas, I learned what that meant. Hard thunderstorms could make a mess. But steady, unceasing rain could be worse. When water has time to gather its strength, it transforms everything around it. Roads become rivers, concrete dividers become popcorn, lives become changed.
I thought I knew that lesson.
Ten years ago, I learned how little I knew.
If you were here in September 2013, you know what I mean. If you weren’t, I’m not sure I can ever explain it properly. That handful of days belongs to another world, one where events flowed as ceaselessly as the St. Vrain and sleep was a rare and precious commodity. A world transformed.
Longmont became a city divided. Lyons became an island chain. Missouri Avenue turned into the “Missouri river” as the water rose. Hover Street became impassible, though that didn’t stop some from sloshing their way across on foot anyway, struggling from south to north as emergency workers yelled at them to turn back.
We held on as the water did its work.
And even after the waters fell, we weren’t quite the same.
I don’t just mean the physical damage, though rebuilding from that became a years-long effort. Passing through the flood changes people. You don’t just let go of what happened, even if your home and family were well out of the floodway.
A few months later, when the spring rains began, I think most of us paused for just a moment. I remember watching the runoff pool and flow in a gutter near Longmont High School, unable to look away as my mind went back to higher waters and faster flows.
Call it a reflex. A readiness. A ghost.
But we also carried away something else. We learned that we truly had neighbors.
It’s easy to forget sometimes. Easy to ignore the lives that pass so near our own or even to clash with them. We divide, separate, watch the world with wary eyes.
But the good stuff never went away. Neighbors still exist. And when the waters rose, we found each other, reached out and helped.
Even the St. Vrain couldn’t separate that.
It shouldn’t take a flood. Or a blizzard, or a wildfire, or any of the other traumatic moments that throw us into each other’s lives. But then, those are the moments that boil down all the choices and throw everything into stark relief. Where it’s clear that we either stand together or else we might not stand at all.
And so we reach for snow shovels. Or sandbags. Or masks. One way or another, we reach for a neighbor’s hand and make each other stronger.
The world does its worst. And we rediscover our best.
And each time, I hope the discovery will last a little longer. It’s too important to rise and fall like a passing creek, full past bursting in a crisis and parched to the point of drought otherwise.
I said it at the beginning: sudden storms come and go, but steady effort transforms. That’s true of more than just rain. If we keep that sort of steady focus on each other, that daily commitment to our neighbors, we can reshape our world.
We just need to gather our strength. And not let up.
Long may we rain.