Katrina 10


Written August 28th, 2015

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. – Robert F Kennedy

Group photo 2009

Pastor Ella’s 2009

There’s been a lot of reflection this week about Katrina and its effects on the city and the people who live here.  We have been doing our own reflections as well about our experiences with the Katrina recovery.  Before our first trip, I was told by several people that working down here would be a “life changing experience”.  The way they said it, I had visions of trumpets sounding and messages coming down from on high revealing to me the true meaning of life.  I was pretty sure it that that was not what I was going to experience (it wasn’t), but I have seen and heard a lot of things on these trips, both good and bad, that has changed the way I look at life. Ellen talked today about the clarity that tragedies can bring about what is important in life and what is not.  I think that is a better description of my experience here – more of a slow 7 year life clarifying experience rather than a sudden life changing one.

One thing we hear a lot when we come down here is how impressed New Orleanians are that we (especially our kids) would choose to spend our vacation time working on houses rather than at the beach.  We nod and smile, (and don’t bother pointing out that in Massachusetts, no one thinks of going to the beach in April) but the truth is we are here because we get just as much from coming here as we give. We have heard so many stories from the people here about the horrors of the storm itself, the time spent living in another state, contractor fraud, toxic Chinese drywall, and  the bureaucratic nightmare of the federal assistance programs.  They’re not told as stories of disaster though, they are told as stories of hope and resilience and strength.  We show up for a few days, we hang some drywall or paint some walls.  There’s nothing special about the work we do, but in that week, we become a part of that person’s story. That is what is sacred about these trips. We can see in a very concrete way how simple acts of kindness can change someone’s life story from one of devastation to one of hope. It sounds corny, but when you see it over and over for 7 years, it is powerful.

It isn’t all about Katrina either.  The people of New Orleans have been so good to us.  The people at Annunciation treat us like family, and Pastor Ella still visits us when we come down. We were here the week of the Boston Marathon bombing, and it was our turn to be in a strange city watching bizarre things going on at home.  People reached out to us, to make sure we were ok, and ask about our families.  When they closed the airport on Friday, the church told us we could stay as long as we had to.  It was nothing like the scale of Katrina, but the people here knew what it was like to be far from home when bad things happen, and wanted to make sure we knew we’d be taken care of.  I know it’s a stereotype to talk about Southern hospitality, but here in New Orleans they take that to another level.

When we came down that first time in 2009, I never would have guessed that I’d be here 7  years later on trip #8 (and having just set up trip #9 for next year).  I have learned so much here.  Here in New Orleans, I have learned the importance of showing up to help  – whether it’s Table of Plenty,  Habitat for Humanity or the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace.  It might seen like a small thing to you but it might mean the world to someone else.  Here in New Orleans, I have learned the importance of a well timed party.  No matter how serious the work, there should always be time for friends and food and music  (Seriously, come to my CFAM meetings – I will feed you).   Here in New Orleans, I have learned that from resilience comes hope. When the flood waters come and wipe out every house in your neighborhood, you should rebuild yours in the middle of that empty block, and paint it the brightest magenta you can find and dare that water to come back and knock it down again.

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