June 23, 2014


Everybody needs to know about the flood.

Lena and I were having breakfast at Hillard House Inn in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. During introductions the other guests at the table identified themselves as being from Florida. Then a conversation started up about the flood, and suddenly everybody but Lena and I could participate. How the talk turned to the flood I am not sure. But it may have been when Lena said something impressive about my long-running privilege and her powers of Christian endurance. Not that she put it that way. She simply mentioned that she and I were about to celebrate 40 years of marriage. That, I think, started the numbers competition. We had to cede two years to our tablemates, celebrating their forty-second wedding anniversary that year—which drew Gordon in. Gordon and Cecilia Williams were our bed-and-breakfast hosts. He wanted to know in which month his guests had married, and their answer, April, brought up the conversation about the flood. “You,” Gordon said to them, “were before the flood; and we [August] were after the flood.”

Unlike everybody else, Lena and I knew nothing about the flood. The visitors from Florida were back in Wilkes-Barre for their family reunion and the presentation of a most unusual gift to the local historical society—a gown that 42 different family members had worn as babies on the occasion of their dedication through pre- and post-flood years.

The famous flood had retired the name Agnes from the list of names that could be given to tropical storms and hurricanes. In Pennsylvania it cost 50 fatalities and $2.3 billion [1972 USD] in damage. Even the origins of today’s Department of Homeland Security role of principal federal official (PFO) trace back to it. President Richard Nixon appointed Frank Carlucci of the Office of Management and Budget as his “flood czar” because the situation demanded “extraordinary measures and a personal White House emissary to do ‘hands on’ management.”1

But it was not sad stories of the surging Susquehanna River or Luzerne County levies overrun or my poor tablemates losing all their wedding presents and brand-new furniture2 that startled me most that day. It was my total ignorance of a matter of such common knowledge around me while I carried on in oblivion. I was in Wilkes-Barre as a guest speaker. People would be listening to me morning and evening. What could I say that applied when I knew nothing about how they had even come to be?

I imagine that neither you nor I will now easily forget my Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, flood lesson. How embarrassing, yet consoling, it would be to know that such happy ignorance is unique, instead of the sad, microcosmic illustration it is. I had made no previous effort to shut out the flood story or deny its occurrence. I simply had never heard of it. By awkward contrast, and on a cosmic level, I learn of those who “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” (2 Peter 3:5, 6). There are among us other invitees uniquely disqualified to speak because they intentionally know nothing of the cataclysmic history that has shaped their present and ours. What’s the point of inviting their speeches then? What can they say about today or tomorrow when they deliberately deny yesterday—when they deliberately refuse to know about the Flood? Everybody needs to know about the Flood.

  1. www.huduser.org/periodicals/cityscape/technotes/FEMA_planning.pdf.
  2. Everything except their wedding albums which, thankfully, were in a house on a hill.