During the flood of 2009, I’ve heard over and over again that the flood was an opportunity for Cobbers to “become responsibly engaged in the world” or “influencing the affairs of the world one sandbag at a time” by contributing to the sandbagging effort. A chance to practice what we’ve been preached, if you will. While I won’t argue that helping your college community protect itself from the tumultuous Red River is responsible, I find it hard to believe that the BREW acronym or mission statement is what motivated Cobbers to get out there and fill and pile sandbags. I think it’s just the kind of people Cobbers are.
I was surprised when I saw the blue “influencing the affairs of the world one sandbag at a time” t-shirts. Do we really need that pat on the back? Is our college’s viewpoint why we took action, because we have had those ideals drilled into us? Or would we have done the same thing even if we didn’t attend a college that promoted civic responsibility? I find the shirts a bit insulting, because to be honest, BREW and the mission statement don’t even make the top 100 reasons of why I decided to help every day we didn’t have class until the evacuation. I don’t consider my efforts to be influencing the affairs of the world, but just the right thing to do as a human being during a natural disaster.
Influencing the affairs of the world never once crossed my mind when I saw the forecasts and images on TV of people frantically preparing their home for the rising Red. All that was running through my head was “I have to help these people.” And from what I witnessed, this is what my fellow Cobbers felt as well. I watched my friends throw on layers of clothes and lace up their shoes, all of which they knew would be ruined, but didn’t care. I listened as they conversed at the end of the day, not about how tired they were, but about where they were going the next day and who they heard was in need of help: a professor, an employer, a friend, a friend of a friend, a stranger.
The Cobbers I sandbagged with didn’t care about being recognized for their efforts or acknowledged as good little Cobbers living out Concordia ideals. We skipped the registration, the shuttles, the free food in Nemzek. We had heard that the buses were extremely slow and took an hour, if not more, to reach a destination. We reasoned that the time could be better spent working rather than waiting. We filled cars, so we wouldn’t congest the areas we went to and drove ourselves. We filled, moved, and piled bags of sand over and over. We will probably never look at a beach the same way again.
Our free time was spent eating, sleeping, and watching the coverage on the news. I remember knowing that this year’s flood would be unlike any other after seeing Mayor Dennis Walaker’s jaw set in a firm line and his eyes downcast when he announced the higher crest. I had last seen Mayor Walaker when my family went out to eat with him and his wife during my first year at Concordia. His daughters, one of them a Concordia grad, babysat me as a child. Then, I remember he had a wide smile and a twinkle in his eyes. The contrast of the two images hit me hard. I had previously scoffed at the request of my mom to have an evacuation bag ready but after seeing the look on Denny’s face, I changed my mind. If he thought it was going to be bad; it was going to be bad.
Despite the somber forecast of impending destruction in Fargo and Moorhead, my birthplace and childhood home, and college community respectively, I never lost hope because of my faith in the people in these communities, especially the wonderful students who attend Concordia.
When I needed gloves to keep sandbagging, who picked some up for me? A Cobber. When I was cold raising a dike in the snow and wind, who gave me an extra sweatshirt layer and a hat even though they had to be freezing themselves? A Cobber. When I slid into a waterlogged ditch on an ice-covered I-29 north of Fargo while trying to get home after the evacuation, who came and picked me up and also retrieved my car the next day? A Cobber.
Did they do it because they were on a mission to responsibly engage with the world, or to influence world affairs? I highly doubt it. Did they do it because they are remarkable friends who think about others before themselves? Absolutely.
Cobbers might wear the famous rings on their fingers, but their hearts are where the true gold lies. It’s not the words we proclaim that set our institution apart, but the people who comprise this institution: the students, faculty, administrators, and other staff. I congratulate everyone who helped fight the Red River this spring and save countless homes. I know you did it not because of a statement, but because that is your nature and you wouldn’t have done anything less.
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.