Southern Flooding- Foreshadowing of a Surreal Sacrifice

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview Janice Person- an open-hearted and dynamic individual who happens to live in recently-flooded Memphis. After I heard Janice speak about the floods on the BBC, I sought her out, and she was kind enough to entertain my follow-up questions during this difficult and somber time.

Janice’s thoughts about the peculiarities, tragedies, and mysteries surrounding a flood provide incredible insights into the plight of the drowning islands (and their inhabitants). While Janice admitted that she doesn’t necessarily “study” climate change to the degree that some others do, her witness to the events of the past several weeks shed light on the “slow-moving thing” that is “strange and surreal.”

Here are pieces of what Janice shared with me:

“There are folks that know they are the first to be flooded. Part of what happens is that this is such a slow-moving thing. It’s a bit strange and surreal. A tornado comes out of nowhere and then it’s gone. This has been building up for a very long time… People know it’s coming. It’s strange to see water coming up over a period of time- a slow progression.”

This “surreal” experience, the slow progression, that Janice spoke of reminds me of several conversations I’ve had with islanders in the front-lines of climate change and sea-level rise. That slow, gradual, lurking, pervasive knowledge that their land is disappearing seems similar to the southern experience that Janice described so well.

“There is a sense for some that they just won’t leave no matter what, that’s part of it… Some people aren’t sure where to go… For some folks, their houses flood every few years because of where they are. They love living close to the river. There’s a draw to the river. Everyone knows the Mississippi has this incredible power… There’s a sense of wanting to live closer to it… I think people get a very defined sense of place… The thing that is the weirdest to me is when people ask: ‘why would you live in a flood zone? Move!’ The flood zone is some of the most productive land in America! You choose to live somewhere for a variety of reasons… There’s a deep, inherent personal connection to where you’re from.”

As Janice shared these thoughts about a deeper, immutable sense of place and connection to home, I couldn’t help but draw strong parallels with islanders that hover just above the ocean. It’s easy to ask someone to move, but it takes more time, sensitivity, and certainly creativity to understand the powerful lure that “home” has and how we can work within that.

“Now I think more people will be aware of just how devastating the water can be. The choices that have to be made along the river with these spillways, that’s something… [rather long and fairly heavy pause here]. Mentally knowing that your home and your land is the first to be sacrificed- that’s really hard.”

I wonder what sort of sacrifices we are asking of those in far-away lands at this very moment. Our daily activities, our creature-comforts, our political and economic decisions- what impact do we have as we open our metaphorical spillway? My pictures in this post are of several beautiful, rather somber Maldivian islanders from a very small and very flat island in the Baa atoll in the Maldives- perhaps very similar to those 25,000 residents in communities on the Morganza spillway who sacrificed their homes this past week in order to spare larger cities from the destruction of the water. Be sure to visit Janice Person’s blog- -and contribute to the cleanup effort as these brave communities put their lives back together (the Salvation Army, Red Cross, and United Way all have donation links on their websites).


One response

  1. I found this story very impactual. When you talk of the sacrifices people are making/undergoing in the Maldives for our daily comforts I can sort of file that away as distant or hypothetical. But to connect that sacrifice with our, essentially, neighbors in Memphis; they too are undergoing the same sacrifices and tragedies… Perhaps I’m being selfish, but our house and life is next, isn’t it… We just can’t ignore this anymore, can we?

    May 23, 2011 at 7:01 am

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