Last Friday night Judith and I attended a local high school football game. We are not big football fans, but we like to go out on a warm September night and experience community coherence. We go early for the pageantry and to catch up with old friends. Just before the national anthem, a local leader took the field microphone and said,”We have a rare privlege tonight because Jonathan McCombs would like to say a few words.”
I scratched my head,”Was this the man whose family was washed away by the Memorial Day flood just three months ago?” It was. Let me brief you on the story. On Memorial Day, 2015, Jonathan and his wife, Laura, and two children, Andrew, 6, and Leighton, 4, rented a very nice home by the beautiful Blanco River. It was about a two and a half hour drive from their home in Corpus Christi, Texas. On Saturday of that weekend they played in the river and had one of the best family days of their lives. Late in the afternoon the rain started, not a downpour but heavy nonetheless in the village of Wimberley, the jewel of the Blanco River Valley.
Even though the rain in Wimberley was not unusual, a storm sat over the near-by town of Blanco for several hours and dumped up to twelve inches of rain on the riparian system. This perfect storm produced a monstrous tsunami like wave over five stories high that barreled down the valley, taking trees, tearing out all the bridges but one. Seventy homes were swept off their foundations, and over 1000 homes were seriously damaged.
At about midnight Jonathan called for help as the waters lifted their house off the concrete beams on which it sat, see photo above. Now, they were being carried down the river while Laura called her sister to say goodbye. Wimberley residents on the banks braved the waters to cry out to them, and some first-responders actually entered the powerful waters in attempt to save them. But to no avail.
A quarter of a mile from its foundations Jonathan’s home crashed into a large bridge that was 40′ above normal water lines. That was the last he saw of his family.
He was thrown into the maelstrom and washed down river, banging into massive trees. His lungs collapsed. His ribs were broken. He sternum, too. They found Laura’s and Andew’s bodies, but Leighton’s body was never found.
Now, somewhat recovered, Jonathan wanted to come to the ball game to thank the Wimberley residents for their outpouring of love and support. On any given day throughout the summer there might be over 1000 people searching for the remains of his family. The microphone crackled, but I could hear most of what he said in gratitude. Then, he uttered in a clear voice something I will take with me, always,”What I choose to remember is that Memorial Saturday was one of the best days my family had ever had on your beautiful river. We swam in crystal clear waters. We kayaked. We tubed. We laughed. You are so blessed to have this river, and I will love it always.”
Jonathan is a traditional Baptist. He comes from conservative Northwest Texas. Yet, here he was speaking from his heart. Not blaming the river. Rather, embracing and accepting its blessing. Tears sparkled on the cheeks of folks all around me. Mine too. In one shining moment, we as a community returned to the cycle of life, humbled. Bloody. Radiant. Determined. Vulnerable. Full of courage and hope. Resilient.
All traits we can engage in a turbulent era of climate change where extreme weather is now the norm.