The text of the aforementioned email was my sister-in-law’s reflections as posted at my nephew’s blog. Her writing is so . . ., so . . . (you find the word) that I asked permission to share it with you. With permission I edited the text and added an earlier excerpt. I handled the words carefully.
It is all about me.
That is a joke in our family. . . . It's all about me. . . .
Any new experience has to be filtered through a person’s past—that person's world view. I know intellectually that through history groups of people have lost everything, but I’ve never seen it up close. So many things were learned, not earth-shattering discoveries, hard won realities—new to me, earth-shattering to my understanding of the world. Anything I share might sound common in the big picture, but I just experienced it. It is extraordinary to me.
Remember. . . it is all about me.
Like a trip over many time zones, this trip has crossed many boundaries. I have emotional jet lag. It’s pulling at my heart. I am a bit teary. I offer disorganized thoughts. . . .
We arrived at a shelter outside of New Orleans. This is only one small piece of this disaster.
Her son wrote:
I am in Houma, LA. Houma is southwest of New Orleans. When you tell people from LA you are going down to Houma they say, "They are really Cajuns down there." It is the only place I have visited in the US, where after 3 days I could still not understand the locals, because they still speak Cajun French. This area is the home of the kindest, gentlest people I have ever met. If you are lucky you will get them to cook and sing for you.
A few days after the shelter in Houma opened, the folks with Adore Ministry saw a need to get evacuees out of the shelter to family or friends in other areas. They formed Starfish Operation, based on the story of the child throwing one starfish at a time back into the ocean, despite the fact there are thousands of starfish on the beach. Through private donations, Adore Ministry sent well over 800 people on to family and friends, by arranging bus tickets, airline tickets, Angel Wings flights, entire buses, gas money and rides. The help continues. In the enormity of this disaster, it still comes down to helping one person, one starfish back into the sea.
We observed and shared the despair of losing the everyday stuff of life—clean underwear, your toothbrush— and the despair of less obvious loss: your neighborhood and your best friend across the street, your favorite grocer, your church, your coffee ladies/men, your photos of your children as babies and your deceased parents, the necklace your grandmother gave you, your doctor, that house you spent a lifetime making a home, control over what food you eat, the rooms where you celebrated your family's milestones, the security you feel when you tuck in the kids . . .
The despair of sitting with a woman who has called family members, asking for shelter and being turned down.
The despair of a woman with 5 children with nowhere to go to.
The despair of being hugged so tightly by a woman who says over and over how scared she is, as she leaves the state with an adult son and 5 grandkids, leaving behind all she has ever known and part of her family.
We also witnessed tremendous generosity, resilience and hope.
This is my first experience in cajun' country. I am ready to move here. The people are generous, polite and loving, despite words that were a bit difficult to understand. The shelter volunteers were local people. Some had 17 displaced family and friends staying with them. Many other volunteers were displaced from New Orleans, staying in the area, just waiting to hear if homes or jobs still existed. They were there everyday.
They were thankful to be alive.
We saw the generosity of people from all over the country. Donations pored in: boxes of athletic gear and shoes from the U of N, phone cards, toys, formula, diapers, new underwear and a box of clothes sent by a 9 year old boy from Bronx, NY.
The hope of an elderly gentleman who was one of a handful to survive being left in a nursing home.
The resilience a of baby who started to eat after two days on a roof with his dad and a week in the shelter.
The joy of volunteers as we found new shoes for 2 men who had walked 62 miles from New Orleans.
It came down to community again and again. Still, I struggle with the fact that it is just a hug given, or a pair of shoes . . . such a small gesture given the obstacles the people face. I will continue to pray that people keep helping them on their journey.
And since it’s all about me . . . remember?
I will filter every new experience through what I’ve have been blessed to witness. I hope it will make me a changed and—or as the Jesuits say ruined—person.
They’re pretty special, my family.