Are you OK?

Hey dude. Are you OK?

That was one of the dozens of text messages I have gotten over the last few days as the water crisis in Jackson, MS, has made the headlines. Our already fragile water system was overwhelmed by the recent flooding, and now vast portions of the city have little to no water pressure.

But even before the flooding, we were under a month-long boil-water notice.

So, the short answer is that we are personally unharmed. We were not damaged in the flooding, and we have plenty of access to safe water.

But there is a longer answer.

I intentionally live in Jackson, MS.

That, in and of itself, is a political act. Jackson is an overwhelmingly majority Black city, surrounded by overwhelmingly majority white suburbs. The white people who live here have mostly decided to be the type of person who wants to live here.

The suburbs have good schools, good roads, and a nice tax base. We do not have any of those things. Nor is our water currently safe to drink.

When we moved here four years ago, we had a bevy of folks try to convince us to live in the majority white suburbs. But here is the thing: Deciding to live in a majority white space is also a political act.

So we live in Jackson. And we don’t have safe drinking water. We have the resources, personally, to manage this. We can afford drinking water. We have the flexibility, schedule-wise, to boil the water we need to boil. I just dropped a not small amount of money on a reverse osmosis water system to ensure that our drinking water, at least, will be safe to drink. That I can do all of that means only that I am privileged enough to have the resources to manage the catastrophe better than folks who don’t have those resources.

But 25% of Jackson residents live under the poverty line, so many folks here don’t have those resources. Parts of Jackson look and feel like the aftermath of a war. But the war – Mississippi against Jackson – is ongoing.

When a crisis hits, it is always the most vulnerable that feel it first. The hungry feel food shortages first. The elderly feel a healthcare crisis first. And Jackson is catching the infrastructure crisis before larger, better-funded cities do. But it’s coming.

In 1979, 65% of all new water and sewer treatment development was funded by the Federal Government. In 2020, that number was 7%. So it’s coming. It just caught us first.

As I write this, The White House, the Governor, and other places are all involved in trying to get us safe drinking water. And I really, really hope they do, because my city needs it. But it is not lost on me that this is not a new situation – the week we arrived here 4 years ago, the city was under a boil-water notice because of problems at the water plant.

And neither is it lost on me that churches all over Mississippi spend serious dollars to get safe drinking water for Black kids in other countries yet are content to let Jackson flounder.

So, we are unharmed, we Hollowells. But we are not OK. None of this is OK. The persistent racism and fear driving so many of Mississippi’s policies is not OK. The state legislature having countless opportunities to help, and refusing, is not OK. The infighting our own political leaders do is not OK. And the poverty pimps bilking the vulnerable is not OK.

None of it is OK.

Grief Groceries

Hi Hugh,

A friend died, and I want to be helpful to his wife, but I’m not sure what to do. I told her that if she needed anything to let me know. Of course, she thanked me, but it’s been a few days now and she hasn’t asked for anything. I don’t think she will. I feel so helpless. What should I do?

[Redacted]

Hey there, [Redacted]. Thanks for writing. I’m really glad your friend has you in her life.

I get it. Grief is a funny thing. It’s the time in our life when we most need help, and also the time when asking for help is so hard. Not because we are ashamed to ask for help, although that happens sometimes too. But mostly because our brain just sort of shuts down.

When my Dad died, I looked functional. But I wasn’t OK. Not at all. And when the news got out, the ton of people flooding me with calls, texts, and DM’s was overwhelming. I really couldn’t function. I sat on the swing in our yard and just stared into space. People called and asked what they could do to help. I had no idea.

“Well, anything you need at all, let me know, OK?”

“OK”.

They hung up. I stared into space some more.

I had no idea what to do. What I needed. I didn’t even know what to ask for.

Then a friend sent a text. This friend had met Dad once but didn’t really know him. But still, she knew I was hurting. I saw who it was and almost put the phone down without reading the text, but I saw the message and it stopped me:

Will you be home at 8:30 tonight?

What’s weird is this friend lives 12 hours away from me.

Yes, I replied.

“K.”

10 minutes later, she said, “Instacart will be there at 8:30. Open the door for them.”

“What?”

“Grief Groceries.”

When Instacart showed up, they put two large bags of groceries on my porch. Frozen pizzas. Ice cream. Oreo cookies. Tinned soup. Stouffer’s lasagna. A gallon of milk. Like that. Things I could heat up if I needed a meal, or pig out on if I needed fat and sugar. Sometimes, you just need to eat half a box of Oreos.

Notice she didn’t ask if I needed any food. I would have said no. She just asked if I would be home.

Grief groceries.

Another friend, who lives out of town, asked Renee to name a restaurant near our house where we like to eat. There is a local chain near our house that is sort of a deli. When we eat supper there, we spend about $25. Renee told her the name of the place.

An hour later, there was a gift card in my inbox for $250. Yes, that is a lot of money, and I understand not everyone can do that. But the wonderful thing was that because it was enough for multiple meals, we didn’t try to save it for “the right time”. We ate there that night, and take out from there several times a week for the next month on nights when I just didn’t have the spoons to cook.

Both of those gift-givers knew something I didn’t know – that when you are grieving, you don’t want to make decisions. No, that’s not quite it: You can’t make decisions. You hit decision fatigue really fast.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, don’t ask grieving people to make big choices or decisions. “How can I help” is a big choice. But “Can I take the kids this afternoon so you can have some time to yourself” is a much smaller one. “Will you be home tonight?” is a small choice. “What restaurant do you like” is a small decision. Just showing up to cut their grass because you noticed it needed cutting is loads better than asking, “Do you want me to cut the grass?” Or, “I’m going to Target. What can I get you while I’m there?” is better than “Can I run any errands for you?”

It won’t always be like this. If you stick around, eventually they will surface and ways to be helpful will make themselves known. But in the first few days, especially, it helps to remove as many decisions from their plate as possible.

Take care,

HH

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