A Flood of Emotion


Across Nebraska and Iowa floodwaters are receding. Downstream future victims are planning, preparing, praying.

Credit: Anna Claussen

Credit: Anna Claussen


These are tough times. The climate devastation moving across our country in the form of bomb cyclones and spring flooding is widespread and impressionable, even for those only observing from afar.

On the ground the damage to local infrastructure and agricultural operations is overwhelming. There is an immediate focus on the physical losses - the property damage, the loss of livestock, impassable roads and collapsed bridges, the foreseen inability to plant a 2019 crop. The immediate financial challenges for so many unable to afford the upfront costs of temporary relocation or basic human needs are real and need our attention and resources.

The pictures are triggering for many. It causes me to vividly remember the first time our community stood side by side in the 11th hour before the cresting flood - feet suctioned to slippery mud, frigid fingers curled around shovels for hours filling sandbags that were stacked on pallets as far as I could see.  I remember how I moved through the long days being bussed from job to job - serving soup at the armory, filling sandbags in the park, comforting infants and toddlers at the church nursery. I was so engrossed in the emotion and the action that, despite being too young to drive and not having a cell phone, I never questioned where my brothers were or how I would find them when night came and it was time to head back to the farm. I was at ground zero - the place where collective action alleviates the paralysis that looms where deep emotions of fear, despair and angst live.

I know how resilient these people are, those on the frontlines of the 2019 spring floods. I know how quickly they get to work. I also know how short our attention spans are in today’s society. The ripple and magnified effects of disasters are what often go unseen and unaddressed.

For farmers, the current floods bring devastating damage when the ag market is soft, trade negotiations are ongoing, and farm incomes hit record lows. We can predict the compounded effects of an inability to plant a 2019 crop in combination with a real farm crisis and it triggers trauma and puts many communities and neighbors on suicide watch. And what of the future implications that abound -  the mold, and chronic asthma in the buildings that will be inadequately restored? What of the depression, addiction, suicide and abuse that accompany devastation like a parasite? What of the multiplier of impassable roads combined with already stretched emergency response systems amidst a rural medical care crisis?


It's true that time can heal, but time can also dilute our collective conscious.


As time moves on, we may still see national headlines that calculate the dollars needed for infrastructure reinvestment, or a warning for water quality and soil erosion concerns yet to be seen. From afar we will sit in policy meetings and discuss how crop insurance programs will seek to indemnify some losses, or how disaster assistance may eventually reimburse some of the costs of relocating. Facts and statistics will be compiled and used to support future legislation for much needed climate policy and action. But what of the space to ask, sit with, and perceive the answers to the question of what it feels like?

What does it feel like to be the rancher who steps out into her pasture - hours after the 60 mph bomb cyclone winds have subsided with dread in the pit of her stomach to find what lies beneath the drifted snow piles?  What does it feel like to be helpless to the needs of your cattle herd - to the dozens of wet noses and tender frames birthed onto this earth in the unfortunate hours ahead of a blizzard? What does it feel like to shutter the doors of your family farm; to sell your cows or your homeplace? What does it feel like to watch your neighbors struggle as they suffer the five consecutive years of depressed farm prices? What does it feel like to hold simultaneous anger, grief and guilt for your situation as a struggling neighbor holding on and wishing you could help others less fortunate?

Farmers and residents in the Midwest await the receding of the waters so they can move forward the best way they know how - with action. They will begin tearing down the collapsed structures, collecting and burying lost livestock, sorting through what can be salvaged, and coming together to pool resources and take care of one another. There will not be time, space or opportunity to mourn and address the trauma. The healing will need to come later, though we know if often won’t. It’s true that time can heal, but time can also dilute our collective conscious. For an ephemeral window of time we all (regardless of proximity) have a heightened ability to empathize with those experiencing such great loss and such swift devastating change. It’s important to seek now to ask and empathize with what people are feeling. It matters. If we exercise this muscle of empathy now, we are more likely to not misplace our sympathy down the road; or worse to replace it with anger, apathy or dismissive thoughts and actions.

Anna Claussen