Sometimes it feels like a handicap to be as empathetic, sentimental and downright mushy as I am.

I wonder if life would be easier if I was a real jerk instead, and just didn't care.

I was in the process of moving to Houston from Atlanta when the 9/11 attacks occurred. I had gotten into Atlanta on a late flight the night before from a work conference in Dallas -- or maybe Philadelphia; it's been a long time ago -- and slept in.

Headed to the office, I turned on the radio, and that's how I learned about the attacks. I was in disbelief, and had to call one of the guys in our office to check to see if it was real.

I thought of all those people...all those people. All they did was go to work that day, or get on a flight. I teared up, choked up, and almost had to stop the car along the highway to get myself together.

I'm sure many, if not most, of you had some of the same feelings on 9/11. And I'm sure we all are experiencing similar reactions to the horrible flooding in Texas and nearby parts this week.

I took a promotion to work at a newspaper in Houston without ever setting foot in the city. Our receptionist, Carolyn, assured me that she'd meet me at the airport with a sign bearing the newspaper's name so I'd know who she was.

As I came down the ramp, expecting to see a sign crafted in Sharpie on a regular piece of paper, I spied a woman with a huge -- at least 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide -- sign with the newspaper's name and the Houston skyline in a photo behind it.

Everything's big in Texas.

Of course, we all know that. It's one of the many things for which the Lone Star State is known.

I liked Houston. I'm really not a city girl, so that went against the grain for me, and it is much too far away from my family here in Central Illinois, but I enjoyed my two years there.

It's really just an overgrown cow town ... full of pickups and cowboys. My car insurance -- and I had a short drive inside the loop from my apartment to the office -- was about $200 per month, and my agent explained that we all pay for "teenagers in their pickup trucks" in Houston.

Of course, my rent for a one-bedroom apartment was almost $800 per month, and that was 14-15 years ago, so go figure. The cost of living certainly isn't comparable to Coles County.

Anyway, there's the metropolitan side to the city, too. I attended multiple black-tie dinners, briefly checked out one of the biggest shopping malls in the city, and met people from all walks of life. I only "sampled" most of these things, though -- I was always working.

When I heard the forecast and saw Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey's trajectory, I knew Houston would be just like it is now. That city is flat as a pancake, and there's nowhere for a large amount of water to go in any quick period of time.

I see on the news now where, for example, 17,000 people are seeking refuge in a particular area of the city. But Houston's population is 2.3 million sprawled near the Gulf Coast. Tens of thousands of people are just -- pardon the comparison -- a drop in the bucket there.

After 9/11, I found out that an acquaintance of mine was in the subway beneath one of the towers when the first plane hit. She was among a throng of people running out of and away from the World Trade Centers that day. Naturally, the event upset her greatly, and for me, it brought the terror attacks even closer to home.

So maybe I'm losing sleep at night, feeling stressed and worried because I have friends in Houston. Maybe if I didn't know anyone there, I would feel differently.

One of my friends is a single mom weathering the storm in an apartment with her son. She was in line for food Tuesday morning and noted on Facebook: "No eggs, bread or milk."

An acquaintance of mine is in Corpus Christi, where he is a pastor and teacher, and he and his husband have a young daughter. From what I can tell, they evacuated and are doing fine.

Another friend from Corpus Christi left for Austin before the storm, and she is waiting out the worst of it with her two dogs in a hotel.

Two couples that I know are still in their homes and their properties are not flooded -- yet. As we've all seen on the news, they're among the lucky ones.

Texans are good representatives of Americans in general: They have a lot of guts. Just when you think they've run out of strength, Houstonians will show us they aren't down and out just yet.

Still, I worry, and I fret.

And I feel guilty.

Sure, I made my donations to relief efforts to help all those affected by Harvey. But I wish I could take time off of work and go there to volunteer. As a friend of mine said on Facebook, I also wish I had a boat and several containers of gasoline.

I sit in my comfortable recliner in my dry, safe home and think about people who are sitting on their roofs, awaiting rescue, while all they can do is watch the water level rise. I go to bed in comfort at night while thousands sleep on the floor of a convention center, or sleep sitting up in chairs, or don't sleep at all, perhaps listening to the slap of the waves of water against the outside of their houses.

But, like all of you, I'm sure, I'm heartened by the first responders giving their all to help so many people; the volunteers in boats converging on the metro area; the neighbors helping neighbors in their time of need.

They'll keep up the good work. They know they have the support of all of America behind them, and hopefully that will strengthen them. The Bayou City is a resilient one, its residents determined and, I have no doubt, ready to continue to come together to weather this storm and its long aftermath.

So don't worry too much about Houston. These tough Texans will survive.

Besides, I'm doing enough worrying for all of us.

Penny Weaver is the associate publisher and editor of the JG-TC. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of the JG-TC. Contact her at or 217-238-6863, and follow her on Twitter @PennyWeaver.


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