Clothes probably do make the man. But sometimes they make the man into something he is not.
Clothes can make the man seem arrogant or aloof or unapproachable. Or clothes can make the man seem uneducated, unaccomplished, uninteresting.
But do you know what does none of these things?
This was always evident in the steam room at the Pittston YMCA. I spent most of my lunch breaks there in the mid-’80s and always marveled at the richness of the conversation which I attributed to, save for towels around our midsections, our lack of clothing.
Take away power ties and $400 wing tips, take away denim work shirts and steel-toed boots, and men are not only free to be themselves but also able to appreciate one another without pre-conceived notions. It is a beautiful thing to witness. Not to mention to take part in.
Something else tends to achieve the same end. A natural disaster.
We saw it here in 1972 and we’ve been watching it the past couple of weeks in Eastern Texas. It’s hard to tell the prince from the pauper when both are filling sand bags. Hard to tell the BMW from the Hyundai when both have water up to their roofs. The cheese sandwich at the shelter is just as welcomed by those used to fine dining as it is by those used to buying their cheese with food stamps.
If one can find a silver lining in the dark clouds that at one point were dumping six inches of rain an hour on Houston and its surroundings, perhaps it is this. We may forget we are all created equal but Mother Nature does not. When she sends a flood, everyone gets flooded.
And everyone must recover. Everyone must rebuild.
Of course that’s easier for those of means. But as we learned in ’72, and again in 2011 for residents of West Pittston, Duryea and a few other local communities, the spirit that pulls folks together during a flood lasts well into the months and even years thereafter. That’s how we came to be known as the “Valley with a Heart” in the first place.
Unfortunately, we also know this feeling of unity can fade with time. The rallying cry of “Valley with the Heart” can become a sarcastic wise crack when a sense of “normalcy,” i.e. “I’ll stay on my side of the tracks and you stay on yours,” returns to the landscape after the river returns to its banks.
No one plans this. Indeed, we hardly notice it happening. But as time goes on, we do forget that we all were once bound together as one. Even if bound solely by mud and tears.
Eastern Texas is now what we were 45 years ago. Love for thy neighbor fills the air as noticeably as sheets of rain so recently did.
As our own memories of what they are going through spur us to send our money and our prayers, let us also remember what it was like for us to come together in the face of adversity. And then make a pledge to do something about it. To not just remember but also conjure up the warmth we felt for our neighbors as we stood in line for a jug of potable water.
A good start would be to resume smiling at one another. The way we did four and a half decades ago when one would think we had little to smile about.
After all, it shouldn’t take another flood to remind us we are brothers.
And it’s impractical to get us all together in a steam room.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.