“Please, don’t take pictures.”
Of all the quotes from all the television news interviews, this one sentence pierced my heart.
The news anchor was questioning a woman who had lost her home and everything she owned in the floods that swept across South Carolina last week.
“What can people send?” she asked. “What do you need?”
“We need everything,” the woman responded. “But most of all, we need hugs.”
And then she paused.
“And please, don’t take pictures.”
My house didn’t wash away when Columbia’s lakes overflowed their banks. My car didn’t float half a mile down the street and land in someone’s flower garden. Nor did my boat, trailer and all, end up behind a tall row of hedges in a neighbor’s back yard.
My underwear, baby albums, and grandma’s afghan aren’t piled on the side of the road next to my baby’s crib. Rescue workers aren’t donning masks before they enter my house because the smell from my molding walls is making them gag. And I’m not crying quietly in a corner when I think no one is looking.
But I understand how this woman feels.
I remember a time years ago. Stung by a jellyfish one hot South Carolina day, I lay writhing on the beach. Red-hot pain from where the creature’s poisonous tentacles had brushed against my leg had left angry stripes in its wake. Trying not to cry, I watched my husband trek across the sand in search of help. He spoke to the lifeguard, who hopped on his 4-wheeler and roared over. Almost immediately, a crowd began to form.
Strangers surrounded me, pointing and talking, their curious eyes assessing my injury. Like rubberneckers at a highway accident looking for the next thousand-hit YouTube video, they cared little about me. Their presence magnified my pain as they gathered to gawk, not to help. I was embarrassed, hurt, and angry.
In a small way, I feel my neighbor’s pain. I hear the cry of her heart.
Thankfully, for every gawker there have been a dozen helpers. For every looter there have been a hundred givers. For every sensationalistic newsman there has been a compassionate soul holding the camera.
They’ve captured stories like the one about a football team full of boys tackling the gridiron task of demolishing their rival team’s coach’s first floor to prepare it for cleanup.
Or the one about the rescuers who discovered a woman sleeping through the storm as floodwaters lifted her mattress from her bed.
Or one of my favorites, the one about how Earl and Cynthia Pierce returned to their flooded home to see if they could salvage any of their possessions. They feared all was lost until they spotted a miracle. Although five to six feet of water had filled their one-story home, two things had stayed high and dry—Earl’s Bible and the check Cynthia had written to her church the night before the flood.
Apparently the chair that held Earl’s Bible and the table on which Cynthia had laid the check had floated up with the floodwaters and settled gently back down again without disturbing their cradled treasures. The Pierces accept these tokens as gifts from the Lord and a reassurance that El Roi, the God who sees, sees them.
If you’d like to help those who have lost their homes in the South Carolina floods, Samaritan’s Purse has set up a command center in Columbia. Working with Shandon Baptist Church, they are coordinating ongoing relief and restoration work. Click here to learn how you can help.
Thank you for being a giver, not a gawker. And thank you for praying.