“How Sweet It Is!!!” That was the famous catchphrase of legendary announcer Gene Peterson that Houston basketball fans heard through the years during Rockets broadcasts, including the championship seasons of 1994 and 1995.
I grew up at the Summit (later Compaq Center) as my family owned Rockets season tickets before the team eventually moved to downtown Houston and the Toyota Center. In the early days, we cheered Calvin and Rudy T and even the Big E, and dreamed that Moses Malone would lead us to the promised land (no one cheered louder than my mom). We filled the rafters booing the likes of Bird and Ainge and McHale (player, not coach) and chanted “Beat LA” each time Magic and the dreaded Lakers took the court (no one booed louder than my mom). We suffered through the often erratic play of Lightning Allen Leavell and Bobby Joe Reid and Mad Max, and finally celebrated World Titles with Hakeem and Clyde (and yes, we would have still won even if MJ was playing). Those players were the heroes of my past.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to venture back into the Summit/Compaq Center, only now it is known as Lakewood Church and houses one of the largest congregations in the country (tune in every Sunday morning at 10 am central on CBS). The name has changed as has its configuration, but my memories swarmed back as I sought out our old seats and the site of my favorite concession areas. (The church does not sell funnel cakes.) I was not there for a Rockets reunion or even a concert or the circus; I was there to attend Jewish High Holiday services because our synagogue (and our school and our house) had flooded about a month earlier during Hurricane Harvey, and Pastor Joel Osteen had graciously opened the doors of his church for our congregation. While I smiled at the memories of Calvin, Rudy, Hakeem and Clyde, and reminisced with family and friends about Rocket lore, I realized that my heroes of the past had been replaced by a new group of role models.
Pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen are my new heroes. They welcomed their Jewish brethren (and sisteren?) with open arms and accommodated our various services, while making all of the Beth Yeshurun members feel at home. Church members served as ushers by warmly greeting us at the doors and directing us to the various rooms for our service of choice. They handed out programs and Yarmulkes and tried their best to properly say “La Shana Tova” as we celebrated the Jewish New Year and asked for forgiveness during Yom Kippur in these unfamiliar, but very comfortable surroundings. The Osteens are my heroes.
The Beth Yeshurun clergy are my new heroes. They chanted and led the services beautifully as they do every year (and week for that matter) and shared valuable messages that seemed a little more inspiring this year. Many of them had suffered losses of their homes and personal belongings during the flood and faced months of rebuilding ahead. But despite their devastating challenges, they continued to provide spiritual guidance to an ailing congregation; they put their personal tragedies on the backburner as they guided us through a most memorable and meaningful high holiday season. To paraphrase a Passover message…Next Year at Beth Yeshurun!!! The Beth Yeshurun clergy are my heroes.
The BYDS (Beth Yeshurun Day School) school teachers and administrators are my new heroes. They walked into the school building in the days that followed Hurricane Harvey, saw their devastation, and rolled up their sleeves to get to work. Though many of them had flooded themselves, they put our children first. They cleaned out the building to prepare for rebuild, found alternate locations to house the students, purchased new school supplies and materials, and revamped schedules to make the educational experiences as productive as possible. They continue to work every day to get the school back open and return the sense of normalcy to our kids’ lives. The BYDS professionals are my heroes.
Our dear friends, “old” (longevity, not age) and new, are my new heroes. During times of tragedy, a community comes together and helps one another. We found out first hand this year after we flooded. Friends showed up to help clean out the house and move gross wet belongings to the front yard; they gave our kids rides and welcomed them for playdates to allow us to deal with ongoing issues; they invited us over for home-cooked Shabbat dinners; many wrote generous checks and sent supplies to a synagogue and school with which they have no personal affiliation, merely because they knew these institutions are important to us and our children. Our friends are my heroes.
My sister and brother-in-law are my new heroes. Some people are just “competent” and figure out how to deal with serious challenges better than others. Sadly, they had personal experiences after the Memorial Day flood a few years ago and know the ins-and-outs of cleanup and insurance and FEMA and all the details that nobody understands until they face it personally. They shared valuable advice with us, while tackling my mom’s flood issues from moment one. (They rented her a condo in their building shortly after the first raindrops had fallen.) They cleaned out her house (and 60-plus years of memories) in short order and set up her new beautiful place in time for her to play host for Rosh Hashana lunches and Yom Kippur break fast just a few weeks later. My sister and brother-in-law are my heroes.
My mom is my new hero. (Well, she already was my role model, but this experience merely elevated her to an entirely new level.) She woke up the day after Hurricane Harvey with the understanding that she would not be returning to the only home she ever knew as an adult. She would not sleep again in the house she shared with my dad for almost 50 years; the house in which she raised a family and hosted hundreds of celebratory occasions and holiday festivities; the house where her children, her granddaughters and now her great grandson played and looked forward to meeting at Mamaw’s for family get-togethers. She seemingly moved onto the next chapter of her life in her new place seamlessly and found time every day (several times a day) to check on us and her other friends who were struggling with our own personal challenges. She never outwardly complained and found the positives in the move (closer to her daughter, niece, mah jong buddies and even Lakewood Church for this year’s holidays). And Mom is now cheering louder than ever for her local sports teams. My mom is my hero.
My wife and kids are my new heroes. Like my mom, they took our “new (short-term) normal” in stride. They remained calm throughout the storm, even as water entered our ground floor. They stayed upstairs, played games, ate chips (lots and lots of chips), calmed the dog and actually “welcomed” the adventure. My wife took charge as we moved furniture and belongings upstairs and onto paint cans and Tupperware to limit the damage to our contents and together we dealt with the insurance adjustor, FEMA reps, and contractors as we moved through the flooding and initiated the rebuild process. In the days that followed the storm, they each transitioned without complaint to a life on the second floor on our house for a few weeks and finally to a small apartment just blocks away. They even seemed to find excitement and enthusiasm in the move. Mainly, they served as examples to me about how to handle stressful times and recognize what is important in life. No one was hurt; no one was sick, the house would be rebuilt; and everything would be just fine. My wife and kids are my heroes.
Other heroes emerged for many in the aftermath of the storm. Of course, the first responders risked their very lives to rescue so many frightened victims who were trapped in their homes, and guided them to safety. Community leaders and volunteers spread out across the city, bringing goods and services to those in needs; helping neighbors with cleanup and needed shelter; providing advice and educational sessions to those struggling to navigate the system for the first (and second and third) time. Local athletes put down their bats, balls, and shoulder pads and volunteered their time, raised much-needed funds, and made special appearances at shelters and elsewhere to help cheer up victims even for just a short time. Builders, handymen/women, and demo crews came into our homes early to use their skills to help prevent further water damage and the spreading of mold. Even many insurance representatives (like our adjuster) shared valuable information to scared (and mad) folks at their very worst and often served as a helpful, calming voice and a promise for a smooth(-ish) transition through the process. (Hopefully I am not speaking too soon before the insurance check is calculated and cashed.)
My lifelong rabbi, a dear family friend and recent flood victim as well, has long shared an inspiring saying for folks who are facing adversity, “Mile by mile is a trial; yard by yard is very hard; but inch by inch is a cinch.” The race we are on is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. Tomorrow we wake up one day, one step, one inch closer to our “old normal,” as we continue to rebuild our schools, our homes, our lives. Houstonians are strong; Houstonians are resilient; Houstonians are survivors; Houstonians are heroes.
Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion!!!