It has been a long summer. Somewhere between our vacations and our better natures, we were distracted by extremists and by hatred. Mock severed heads, political shootings, neo-Nazis, Antifa — it seems as if September could not come soon enough. And now we are confronted with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey that has rocked the Houston and southwestern Louisiana areas, chastened our daily assurances, and reminded us of our consciences. Houston could be any one of our towns, any one of our cities — and Americans are rushing to help however they can. Others have already commented on the tragic irony of the need for disasters to remind us of our shared humanity; and it is heartbreaking that we otherwise seem to find no shortage of differences to separate what we have in common. And that leads us to an American paradox.

The majority of Americans are often able to see beyond their political and personal differences, but the past several years — and the past several months in particular — have been a litmus for increasing division. Social media has provided a platform for elevated antipathy between even goodhearted people while lowering the standard for civil discourse. We are quick to call names, dismiss out of hand and refuse to attempt to see the other apart from us. We strike out to blame President Trump or Kathy Griffin, statues and history, the alt-left and the alt-right for this corroded metamorphosis, but the blame rests with us.

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And now, we Americans, no matter what may set us apart from each other, are brought together in a common cause — each other. From each person among us to our President, we are responding as we should. We offer what we can to help. We understand what it is to hurt, and our hearts grieve for those who suffer. We are compelled to act by the traces of God within us, by our very human compassion and because we see ourselves in the eyes of those who hurt.

All too often we worry that it takes the worst around us to bring out the best among us. Reflecting on the breadth of the summer, and the extent of what we have witnessed, this fear seems well-founded. Between violence and hatred, we appear to have forgotten much. We seem to have forgotten that we can stand up for what we believe in without standing on anyone else to do so. We seem to have forgotten that we can exercise appropriate moral judgment when somebody does something wrong. We seem to have forgotten that we can be friends with, and love those who do not share our precise worldview.

And then a hurricane comes along, and nothing else matters except the human soul opposite you.

Our ability, as Americans, to come together under such circumstances demonstrates the lengths to which we will go to save, comfort and care for one another, let alone others around the world. We find our humanity when we stand to lose everything. And this is perhaps the great American paradox: We are prepared to throw down with one another for any slight reason and we are prepared to do what we can to make things better for one another for any reason. How are we to explain such a state of being?

It's simply who we are. We are passionate people. We are simply human. We have the free will to do extraordinary things — or bring on great darkness. In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans of their common heritage and of the importance that no ill passion should break the bonds between them. We love and we fight and we dream and we fear. We aspire and we reach and we achieve, but at the end of the day, we are all together in the tide, made equal by our mortal season on Earth.

Today, we understand the same thing because of the disaster that has befallen Texas and Louisiana. Americans are the most charitable people on the face of Earth. They are demonstrating this once again in the present in how they have responded to Hurricane Harvey. Yes, there are some horrific exceptions — those who say that this is God's punishment for states that voted for President Trump and those who are using an unfolding crisis purely for the sake of political maneuvering — but these individuals should simply be ignored. They are contributing nothing beneficial to the exercise of our American nature, and their words are lost against the tremendous, genuine and positive action being taken by their fellow citizens.

In the months and even years ahead, as Houston and beyond recover from this storm, we have to reflect and draw on the best of ourselves in the worst of our hours. Against a crescendo of untempered passions, we have to resolve that we will not be deterred from compassion.

Joe Vigliotti is a writer and a Taneytown city councilman. He can be reached through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.

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