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This Is Our Home

By Ed Southern, Executive Director
North Carolina Writers’ Network

This is our home, this state—every corner, every inch.

Mountains, hills, and fields; rivers, creeks, and seas: we claim it all, held in common with everyone who has found their imaginations rooted, boosted, buoyed by this “goodliest soil under the cope of heaven,” the Old North State, the Writingest State.

Yet here we are, the North Carolina Writers’ Network, the state’s largest literary organization, dedicated and devoted to the writers and writing of our home state…and words keep failing us.

We feel we should say, write, something, some sort of official statement of support and solidarity for and with those affected by Florence and her floods. That’s almost all of us, though, “those affected,” even if the only effects were sleepless nights listening to the wind and rain, and breaking hearts watching the footage on the news.

To those affected more deeply, more thoroughly—those who had to evacuate, those cut off from their homes with no idea when they will return, those who lost their homes—we can and do offer thoughts and prayers, a couch or spare room if we have one, donations to the charities and services helping the displaced and aiding the recovery.

Something about that feels cheap, though, expected and polite. How can we express, with any degree of adequacy, the just compassion and empathy for our neighbors, friends, family, when their lives have been so disrupted, when their ways to and through our shared home—downtown city grids, whole subdivisions, major highways like I-40 and US 74, even the doggone state ports—are under water?

Speaking only for myself, this is one of those times when I’m tempted to feel like the discipline of well-crafted words is trivial, and my devotion to it an indulgence. I feel like I should have stuck to truck driving so I could help haul in supplies, or learned something useful like one of the building trades, or become a firefighter or pilot like I wanted to as a boy. I feel like I should put on hold my duties to the Network, grab my work boots and gloves, and go east, a volunteer.

What can writers do at a time like this? Is it enough to bear witness and keep accounts, as Wilmington’s Taylor Brown did so effectively in Tuesday’s New York Times? Is it worth the effort to study and warn of the effects of changing weather patterns and coastal overdevelopment, when generations of very fine writers—from Rachel Carson to North Carolinians Scott Huler and David Gessner (among many others)—have done just that…and Florence came anyway?

What can an organization like the Network do in a time like this? We can share this list of Hurricane Florence Relief and Recovery Resources, compiled and posted by the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits.

We can have at the Fall Conference collection boxes where registrants can donate needed items for hurricane victims, as we did after Matthew, the last catastrophic, “once-every-500-years” hurricane and flooding to hit North Carolina, all of two years ago. We’re going to get tired of doing that, though, if we’re going to have to do it every other year (or more).

Maybe all we can do, maybe the best we can do, is keep the faith: faith that stories can save lives, too, and that a society needs language and memory just as much as it needs roads and bridges and grids, that in fact you can’t have the one without the other. Maybe the best we can do is keep the light on, if you will, even when the power’s out.