Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Hard Times in the Big Easy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


More by this author
I am fortunate to have witnessed my fair share of breathtaking moments, moments that have shaken my world and broadened my perspective. These snippets in time seem to shatter reality and force me to question my beliefs, opinions, and most importantly, my purpose. I can pinpoint one moment in particular that permanently shifted my view of the world. One glimpse at the battered, suffering city of New Orleans in 2006 forever broadened my vision, allowing me to take a long look at what was once beyond the periphery.

Nothing could have prepared me for the devastation of New Orleans. Seeing video on TV, reading news reports, and overhearing countless conversations ­between worried individuals did nothing to prepare me for the pain that ripped through my heart when I first caught sight of the city. Few roamed the sidewalks, and those who did exuded an emotion that I cannot quite explain and that still brings me to tears. I felt overwhelmed by the suffering that lingered on every street. Yet, I felt blessed to have the opportunity to make a positive impact. I knew the work I would do would be incredibly important.

I headed to New Orleans with my youth group for a week to help victims along the Gulf Coast. I had seen countless people suffering in poverty on mission trips, but when I met Ms. Bishop, a sweet, blind woman in her eighties, and heard her story, my heart filled with a need to help her. She told us how she felt when she was forced to leave her home to find safety and the devastation she discovered when she returned. Her home was totally destroyed. She had to clean up her property within two months to avoid handing it over to the government. My group’s goal for the week was to help clean up what was left so she could sell the land, a preferred alternative to having her pro­perty taken with little compensation. She needed all the help she could get.

I felt tremendous grief when I first saw the devastation that Ms. Bishop once called home. Opening the doors for the first time in eight months, we encountered an unbearable sight. Black mold coated every surface. The floors were hidden under several feet of cockroaches and debris. Visions of my own neighborhood filled my thoughts and I struggled to comprehend how I would feel if my home experienced a similar fate. Plenty needed to be done and the task was intimidating.

As we moved everything from the home, we had the daunting task of ­distinguishing between trash and Ms. Bishop’s valuables. My face covered in a breathing mask, I trekked in and out with things for her to sort. The somber woman, with the help of her daughter, ­assessed what I brought her and told me whether to throw it away. As we worked, she recounted amazing stories of her life. Everything she owned had a history.

After several hours, I finally made it to a bedroom at the back where I found an antique dresser. I struggled to drag out one of the drawers full of knick-knacks and jewelry. The rotting wood fell apart and its contents scattered. I dropped to all fours to try to recover what I could.

After several minutes, I came across two small pins with medals attached to striped ribbons. I asked Ms. Bishop if the pins were significant. Her daughter recognized them immediately and ­exclaimed, “These are Daddy’s war medals! I thought we’d never see them again!”

Tears streaked down my face, as they do every time I tell this story. The ribbons had belonged to Ms. Bishop’s late husband, who had served many years in the military. I felt like I was holding history in my hands.

By working with Ms. Bishop that day and being a part of this project, I had saved something close to her heart. Never before had I felt so connected to a complete stranger. I had, in a small way, touched Ms. Bishop’s life. My world would never again be confined to my neighborhood, my family, my school. In that moment, I understood that my life can intertwine with whomever I choose to impact.

My trip to New Orleans did not end with Ms. Bishop. I met several incredible individuals that week. I hope to have more breathtaking moments, ­continuing to intertwine my life with those around me, impacting lives in a positive way. No boundaries exist that can stifle my opportunities to connect with the world.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

tomeka said...
Aug. 23, 2009 at 9:45 pm
its very nice!
 
Site Feedback