Saturday, August 29, 2015

10 YEARS AGO

The first church built in Slidell in 1886.  Photo taken in 2013.  
Ten years ago, I was a freshman at LSU.  I'd come home to Slidell, a city just north of New Orleans, for the weekend to celebrate my younger sister's birthday.  Instead of birthday festivities, we were driving away from home, about 1,000 miles away, to where our nearest family lived, to escape one of the deadliest hurricanes in recorded history, Katrina.

My story isn't that noteworthy compared to many I know.  I wasn't there when the water came in.  I didn't witness the destruction of all of my possessions.  I wasn't rescued from my rooftop.  I didn't watch a loved one taken away by the water.  My loss was nothing compared to what many experienced.

A few days after Katrina made landfall, I had to return back home.  With zero cell phone reception, I boarded a plane headed for Baton Rouge hoping one of my friends got my e-mail asking for a ride from the airport.  Otherwise, my plan was to look for a police officer, or maybe a woman with children who'd be willing to drive me back to my dorm.  My first flight, I was the only person on the plane besides the captain and flight attendant.  Thankfully, when I arrived in Baton Rouge, my friend was there waiting.

About a week later, I was able to catch a ride back to my hometown, unsure of if my home would even resemble how I left it.  The drive that normally took a little over an hour, took six.  So many trees were down everywhere, it felt empty.  Without power, the darkness felt pretty eerie, almost scary like the scene from a horror movie.  And the smell.  The smell was a combination of death and decay, and it lingered for too long.

At home, we had one A/C window unit run by a generator and we ate MREs.  No trees fell on our house.  No water came in.  No one I loved or even knew had died.  We were very fortunate.

Over the years I've met people who shared their stories of loss with a numbness.  People who had to throw away their only family photos because they were saturated or covered in mold.  People who came home to the piece of land that their house once stood on.  People who witnessed what happens when evil preys on the weak during times of devastation.  People who were in the Superdome when the lights were out, when the toilets overflowed, when the children were crying because they were hot and hungry, when the women were crying because they were raped.  Bodies floating.  Newborns separated from their mothers when hospitals were evacuated.  Elderly in nursing homes left behind to drown.

Thankfully, that's only some of the stories.  Just a few even.  Most of the people I know, even those who experienced loss, can also share stories of the blessings they experienced after the storm.  Stories of those who opened their homes to the homeless and food to the hungry.  Stories of strangers who left their comfortable homes to camp in parking lots so they could help gut and rebuild a house or a church.  Stories of how the storm, despite being the most devastating time in their entire life, had restored their faith in God and in humanity.

Like everyone I know from Louisiana who has since moved away---I might be here in Texas, but today my heart is in Louisiana.

The pilings of a former home washed away by Katrina.  Photo taken 2013.