FIGURE OF SPEECH

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

July 1, 2013

"And, behold, I, even I, do bring flood waters upon the earth."

Genesis 6.17

Over 250 flood narratives have been found spanning virtually every culture on earth, from the Sumerians to the Aztecs, and they testify to a global phenomenon unlike any other that has since visited our planet. Stories of raging waters have a strange power that tap into this primordial occurrence which underpins our collective psyche.

Southern Alberta's recent devastating flood puts into small relief the undoubted impact of such an event. Unlike doomsday scenarios, such as we saw with the end of the Mayan calendar, the great flood produces a tangible physical effect on the landscape that reminds us of our very real vulnerability. We occupy a small patch of ground on this great earth, and we hold it by the grace of God.

The flood, of course, not only underlines our vulnerabilities; it also signals the great strength that humanity has been given: to be resilient, to be heroic, to be caring.

ACTS OF KINDNESS

Just as we have been awestruck by images of train tracks twisted like a roller coaster or of an arena under water, so too have we been transfixed by acts of kindness, where neighbours and strangers have come to each other's rescue.

People pitch in to help remove soaked furniture from their homes in one of the flooded areas in Calgary.

CNS PHOTO | ANDY CLARK, REUTERS

People pitch in to help remove soaked furniture from their homes in one of the flooded areas in Calgary.

This is the other side of the human condition. Inasmuch as we have a strange capacity for selfishness and cruelty, it is truly wondrous to see the deep-seated humanity that resides in so many of us in times of need. The Good Samaritan is alive and well.

HELPING HANDS

Calgary and its environs have witnessed great acts of care and support, with strangers offering accommodation, providing food and shelter, and generally lending a helping hand.

Just as importantly, our relief services have stepped up even above their own high standard. Firefighters, police, army and reservists; volunteer relief workers; hospitals and more. It is an extraordinary thing to see the power of the human spirit when it is focused resolutely on the greater good.

What disasters like this one show is that no one is immune to the carnage. Equally, everyone is up to the challenge. What the great flood narratives have in common - from Gilgamesh to Noah to Ntcinemkin - is that people who keep the faith will weather the storm.

FLOODS HAVE LIFTED

While the news has been filled with images of loss, Alberta's heart was on display this week-and it's enormous. And so, given that I opened with the coming of the flood, it is perhaps fitting to conclude with a deliverance.

As we read in the 93rd Psalm: "The floods have lifted, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring."

(Dr. Gerry Turcotte is president, St. Mary's University College in Calgary.)