Matthew 25 director talks about disaster and hope
This year’s One Book, “Zeitoun,” by David Eggers, brought students together not only in the shared reading experience, but for many in shared life experience. As the Opening Convocation speaker, Clint Twedt-Ball, founder of Matthew 25, said, natural disasters affect everyone. Thousands of people, Cornellians included, are still dealing with the effects of the flooding in Cedar Rapids from five years ago, while other Cornell students and alumni are struggling with the fire and flooding in Colorado.
Twedt-Ball’s speech was startlingly candid as he spoke not only of the stress of disaster, but also of the confused fascination with it that feels almost like a movie, as those in the midst of it see life taken over by something larger than the daily grind.
In ”Zeitoun,” Eggers describes with detail how Abdulrahman Zeitoun, faced by the destruction in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, strives to keep his home and neighbors safe during the disaster, and yet finds himself criminalized and detained as a suspected terrorist. The damage of these disasters reaches far beyond the material goods as affected neighborhoods are completely redefined, no longer communities of security and settlement, but places of broken systems and displacement.
Though the Cedar Rapids flooding wasn’t as damaging as Hurricane Katrina, it had its own costly effects—causing billions of dollars in damage to homes and small businesses. For many trying to recover, the systems in place seemed to fail at every turn. Twedt-Ball described stepping outside of the existing systems and working through Matthew 25 to speak with individuals from the Cedar Rapids community and help them to communicate with each other and work together to rebuild.
By working in the communities, Twedt-Ball witnessed the destruction of the flood turn into an opportunity for rebirth. He shared examples of what has come of the Cedar Rapids flooding—a public library, river park, and city market—beautiful new community hubs. Twedt-Ball left the audience on a high note saying, “My hope today is that your ludicrous dreams, and your study, and your hours and days and years of work will lead us all to a reality surpassing our wildest hopes and dreams.”