Over the past couple days, I have had a knot in my stomach that has tightened every time I have watched television coverage of the devastation, read a news article or seen pictures of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I haven’t been able to write about this terrible tragedy, because the scenes of destruction, the stories of lives lost and ruined have been overwhelming. It has hit too close to home for me.
My heart is broken for them, not just because of the horrible conditions in Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf. The devastation December’s tsunami left behind was tragic, but I didn’t feel this way. And hurricanes hit Southern Florida, where my family still lives, and the Gulf Coast last year–but I didn’t feel this way. No, I am so troubled by this tragedy because I have lived through similar circumstances. In the past few days I have been reminded all too often of the horrible days, weeks and months after Hurricane Andrew ripped through my parent’s home and turned our lives upside-down and everything just seemed wrong. All I wanted then was for life to return to something close to normal.
Today, there a multitude of Americans who find themselves in that terrible situation. Their lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out. And life won’t be normal for them for weeks and months, if not years.
I wish I had the words to describe how much the generosity of strangers helped my family and I cope with our ordeal. Days after Andrew one of my parent’s co-workers gave us a propane stove so we could cook. Many, many others donated the supplies that they had put away before the storm. My father’s employer gave us a jug of water from their water cooler, so that we would have drinking water. Our local Coca-Cola bottler gave away bottles of water to all comers. Many others gave generously and it made life better. My cousin’s house was destroyed; a friend of his gave he and his family the use of a condo. I heard all kinds of stories of people opening their homes and their lives to help. I wish I had the words to say how much that meant.
But I don’t, so what I will say is this: Give! Give now, give later, and keep giving. Give until it hurts. If you did without eating lunch out next week and took peanut butter sandwiches to work, how much money would that be? Then give it away. If you go out for pizza once a week, then skip it for a while and give that money away. Even if you ate only rice and beans or tuna fish sandwiches next week, you would still be eating better than many of people along the coast next week. Give away the difference. Turn you air conditioning up, or turn it off altogether and open your windows. You’ll still be better off than many of people in Louisiana and Mississippi. Give away what you save. Carpool and give away the extra. Yes, it is inconvenient and yes gas prices are rising, but it’s still a lot less inconvenient than having your car and home swept away, and at least you still have a gas station to buy gas from.
If you are an employer looking to hire, consider hiring someone who has been forced to leave their home–even if only for a short term–to help them press pause on the chaos and uncertainty of their lives. Consider opening your home to people who have been displaced. If you are looking to take someone in Bill Hennessy’s Homes for Katrina Victims, Katrina Home Sharing Registry or Operation: Share Your Home are great places to start looking. Even if you can’t take people in long term, even a warm meal, air conditioning and a hot shower will make a difference. After Andrew a friend of my father’s invited us over for a meal and a hot shower. That afternoon was blissful, even though I knew it would end all too soon. Somehow that shower seemed to transform me; here was something normal–the way life was supposed to be–I felt human again.
Looking for other ways to help? Try the KatrinaHelp Wiki, where you can offer your help and find information on ways to help and immediate needs.
Lastly, I would suggest giving to Samaritan’s Purse, The Salvation Army or the American Red Cross. The Red Cross website seems to be slow as I post this, so if you live in the Knoxville Area, you can also give donations to the Knoxville Area Chapter, specifying your donation to be used for the National Disaster Response Fund. Glenn Reynolds also has a list of other relief organizations. N.Z. Bear also has a list up of relief agencies. I have joined the list of bloggers participating in Hurricane Katrina: Blog for Relief Day. You can find more bloggers and the charities they are supporting at N.Z. Bear’s special relief page. Please pick one, and donate now.
I hope this hasn’t been too maudlin, but I find that I can’t help it. I have been on the verge of tears for days now. Everytime I hear news about New Orleans or the Gulf Coast, I find myself fighting back tears. Katrina blew through my parent’s neighborhood thirteen years and one day after Andrew. And I can’t adequately express how grateful I was Friday morning when my mother called to tell me that they were fine. Our conversation turned to Andrew and that dreadful time afterwards, and I was happy that they were spared this time. But the Gulf Coast wasn’t spared and their lives will never be the same. Katrina will stay with them for years just as Andrew stayed with us.