Early on a freezing March morning in 2009, my body shook from cold and fear as I looked out over the 10-foot high, 15,000 sandbag-strong dike protecting my family’s home on River Road. The weeks-long, all-consuming efforts of our neighbors, friends and community members were on trial – the dike would hold, or our house would succumb to another 500-year flood as it had in 1997.
In 2009, our community faced the threat of a flood of epic proportions, something we were all-too familiar with after 1997. Even if it only directly impacted certain neighborhoods, we knew a flood of this magnitude would devastate the whole community. We knew we wouldn’t be able to save every house, but we committed to doing everything in our power to mitigate the damage. We didn’t choose sides or divide our strength; we were as non-discriminating in our efforts to combat the Red River as the flood waters were with us. It didn’t matter if our house or neighborhood was at risk, everyone became neighbors as we dedicated ourselves to saving our city.
We didn’t take chances or wait until the waters lapped at our back door. We didn’t politicize public safety or make excuses or exceptions. We prioritized community over convenience and comfort. We unquestioningly and willingly put our lives on hold. We made sacrifices and went out of our way to show up for one another. We spent days filling millions of sandbags. We depleted ourselves as we stood shoulder to shoulder constructing dikes at homes of strangers. We closed schools and businesses so we could have all hands on deck. If we weren’t on the frontline of manual labor, we made food for people, watched each other’s kids, or delivered supplies. And through it all, we were kind to each other. We kept each other’s energy and spirits up at a time when we all felt scared and uncertain. We were vulnerable to a natural disaster, but our unity prepared us and made us strong.
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In the end, we mourned with those who lost their homes and felt a collective sense of loss for the ravaged neighborhoods. But we also celebrated. In May of 2009, the waters receded, and we danced in the street to Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome as we rejoiced in saving our city. We were relieved, proud and appreciative. We were so grateful for our city’s leadership throughout the turmoil that we elected the man who had donned the yellow vest and refused to take it off until the waters were back in their banks, Dr. Timothy Mahoney, as the mayor of Fargo.
In both 1997 and 2009, commitment to one another, recognition of our commonalities, and strong, unrelenting leadership brought this community together to defeat the raging Red. I won’t forget that cold March morning when my family was betrayed for a second time by the Red’s deceptively peaceful presence as it rampaged our home. More importantly, I won’t forget the friends, neighbors and strangers that showed up for us in myriad ways. You sacrificed for us, fought with us, embraced us when we were broken, and helped us regain our strength to heal. What would our power be if we had that same spirit today?
Danz is an avid runner, reader and writer. She’s a graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead who lives, works and believes in downtown Fargo. She’s a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion pages.