Reporter's Note: The President has asked for advice. At a letter a day, I am asking for something too. More stamps.
Tom Foreman | Bio
Dear Mr. President,
I know it’s the weekend and you’re probably trying to get some rest, but I really can’t help thinking about North Dakota. Floods are always awful, but in the winter they are particularly miserable. Yes, it is technically spring, but having lived in the Dakotas I know that winter is not really over until the cows are not just horns poking out of the snow.
In any event, I keep thinking of all those people piling sandbags and hope against that torrent of water; working to save their land, their homes, their towns. The first five sandbags are fun. The next fifty are serious work. And from then on they are a backbreaking series of little battles with gravity, that make your arms throb, your shoulders ache, your lungs burn, and your legs wobble.
I know from the many floods I have covered, nothing about this spectacle is glamorous. Even when sandbaggers get their pictures on the news, they rarely see them. They are either still on the line, or collapsed in a car, or on a floor for a few fitful hours of sleep before pulling their exhausted muscles back to the levee. (And, btw, while you are working on all these ideas about new technology and green energy, toss that onto the list. Certainly by this point in evolution we ought to have a faster, less humanly consumptive way of stopping a river from getting too big for its bridges.)
We talk too easily about heroism, often mistaking anyone who has been under gunfire or in front of a wildfire as heroic. These people in the Dakotas, however, really are heroic; laboring hour after hour, knowing at any moment the river could yet break free, taking them, their hard work, and their struggle for survival down in a deluge of icy water.
This Sunday, I’ll pray for them in church, and I hope you will too. But I’ll pray for something else too. It’s easy for everyone to get concerned about places like North Dakota when something awful happens there. Yet it’s also easy for us all to forget those less crowded places on the map when the water passes. But there are good people out there every day of the year, and when the waters recede they’ll probably need some help. Rebuilding dams, patching roads, mending fences, and repairing buildings. You’ve already taken some steps to provide assistance, but please don’t let your interest retreat with the waters. I feel like I’ve seen too many politicians and Presidents do that; roll out the help when the headlines are hot, then quickly move on to the next shiny thing.
They people of North Dakota have little political or economic power. Washington DC has almost as many residents as their whole state. But Presidents, I think, can only become truly great if they concentrate on doing the right thing even when there is nothing to gain for them, or their party; when they step up to the weary sandbaggers and say, “You’ve done your part. Now let me do mine;” and then stick with the job until the danger has truly passed.
Enjoy your Sunday. Call if you can.
For more of the Foreman Letters, go here.
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