Finding Blessings Amid Destruction

Finding Blessings Amid Destruction

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Finding Blessings Amid Destruction

The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him, “What are you going through?”

Simone Weil

I hugged a total stranger today. In fact, in the past months I’ve hugged a lot of strangers. Since Hurricane Katrina forced my family and me to evacuate our home just north of New Orleans, people will notice the Louisiana plates on our car, my son’s LSU T-shirt, or our accents, and they want to know if we’re okay, if we have a house to return to, and what they can do to help.

You can see in their faces that they mean it, too. If we told them we needed money, they’d find a way to give it to us. If we needed a place to stay, they’d put us up.

I’ve heard that disasters bring out the good and the bad in people. We’ve all seen the bad. The news media made sure of that. But not enough has been said about the good.

After the storm, communities for miles around the Gulf Coast opened their towns, homes, schools, and hearts to us. Stores and restaurants offered discounts to anyone affected by the storm. Schools registered children with little or no records. Pharmacies filled our prescriptions, and banks cashed our checks pretty much on the honor system.

A week after the storm, my family and I were eating in a restaurant. We mentioned to the waiter that we had evacuated because of the storm, and the next thing we knew our meal was on the house. I met a woman at a church we visited, inquired where she got her hair cut, and my entire family was treated to free haircuts. My kids came home daily from their temporary school with armloads of gifts from teachers, parents, and the PTA.

Back home we found volunteers everywhere. People from Minnesota, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Alabama, and New York flooded into our little country town handing out food, water, ice, clothing, medicine, and their blood and sweat helping us clean up. People from all over the country got into their cars, drove down, and looked around until they found a way to help.

Our tiny church served 400 hot meals a day to whoever showed up to eat them. Church members formed chainsaw crews and scoured the countryside looking for people needing help. Those who could donated generators for families who needed them. Some days we weren’t sure where the money would come from for the next day’s food, or for gasoline for the chain saws and generators. Then, the next day rolled around and the money was there. One day a total stranger showed up, handed our pastor a fistful of one-hundred dollar bills, and then drove away.

Families doubled up, shared what they had, and pulled together to get the work done. With no electricity we were forced to spend time talking. Without televisions, computers, Play Stations, or phones, we rediscovered one another. Longtime family feuds dissolved. Pride melted away as some learned to give and others learned to take.

One day I spent seven hours standing in line to apply for Red Cross assistance. That might sound like a nightmare, but it was surprisingly pleasant. There we were, thousands of us—old, young, black, white, professional, and working class—crowded together, waiting in the scorching Louisiana sun. I saw people exchanging phone numbers and offers of help, pooling their resources of food, water, chairs, bug spray, sunscreen, and diapers, and even survival stories.

One lady waited in a line for three hours only to discover the help available was only for people affected by Hurricane Katrina. She was from Texas and had been wiped out by Hurricane Rita. Fighting back tears, she started gathering up her chair and purse, but before she could, men started pulling out their wallets. Women opened their purses. She tried to protest, but she left with a handful of money to see her through until she could apply for Red Cross assistance somewhere else.

It’s been years since Katrina clobbered our community. The effects are like ripples on a pond, one bad consequence leading to another. Every so often, one of us thinks out loud that we can’t wait for things to get back to normal, only to realize that “normal” as we knew it will probably never come again.

Yet, the things that have happened to us in these months have become a part of who we are. Strangers, friends, and family members have done wonderful things for us, and we’ve had the opportunity to do for them. Most of us wouldn’t have missed these experiences for the world. Every day God opens our eyes to see blessings amid the devastation. I can hardly wait to see what today will hold.

Mimi Greenwood Knight

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