January 4th, 2006

don't fear death

(no subject)

i miss my work. i loved my job. those kids meant the world to me.

I spent the first eight days after Katrina doing the best I could to turn my New Orleans east community center, unexpectedly, into a safe makeshift shelter and first aid station for our families. We weathered the storm, the floods, the looters and the gunshots. We played games, worked puzzles and waited for rescue. i never thought it would all end there, even while sitting in the middle of it.

Now, nearly three months after the storm, I struggle to pick up the pieces and start over. Yet, under the mud and the debris, I have found a layer I never would have expected in the aftermath of such devastation. The layer is not visible to the eye, but resides deep within. It is gratitude. My mother always taught me to write a thank you note when a gift befalls you; and, so I have.

Dear Katrina,

In just a few short hours you completely changed my life.

I want to thank you for showing me how to put things in perspective. You taught me how important the intangible things in life are, and how unimportant the tangible things should be.

You took from me all my jewels, to show me how blessed I am to have the gems of family and friends. You ripped from my home long cherished sentimental possessions only to remind me that memories are in my heart, not my hands. You scattered and tore from my closets the clothes that kept me warm to show me that warmth can be found in the home of kind strangers. You destroyed the escape of my movie collection and television to remind me to go out and be. You ruined all my books, many of which I should have long ago donated after reading. You washed away my car to let me experience what so many less fortunate do. You sent me to the shelters to teach me humility.

I had to spend hours just trying to remember the things I owned to learn if you can’t remember what you have, you have too much. Now, before I make a new purchase or bring another trinket home, I stop and think, “Will I be upset if I lose this tomorrow?” If the answer is yes, I pass it by. I had become too attached to “things” and less attached to people. My home became my haven, a place I would hide on days off, turning the phone off and diving onto the couch with a remote control. I should have gone to the park while the trees were still there. I should have forged better relationships with my neighbors then instead of now while we find each other’s belongings in the mess.

Katrina, you tried to shove us into a sense of community – instead, many of the threads of community unraveled. We scattered, we ran, and most may never return. Remnants of empty homes will long serve as a reminder of your wrath. Yet, those who have returned brought with them a new bond. We talk to each other in the grocery store aisles. We build roofs together. Some of us have more patience in traffic. Though we shared before the same streets, the same schools and churches, and the same parks, we now share the same story. It took us a while, but our sighs and cries have turned to strength. We will recover, rebuild, and renew. I hope we can learn to do it together, as a community.

Katrina, you were a tragic teacher. Your lessons will not soon be forgotten.