Opening my eyes to the unseen

December 22, 2009
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I walk up to piles of bricks, chunks of cement, and remains of what people called their lives. I wonder to myself, how? How does this happen? I walk inside the “house” and look down at my feet, only to find a toothbrush, a blanket and a broken dish. Who does it belong to? Perhaps the person who used to call this pile of bricks “home” or maybe it belongs to someone three miles away. Nobody knows.
I walk further into the house, and look ahead and notice one thing. A picture frame. Shattered. A smiling family sits behind the shattered glass. But where are they now? Dead? Alive? I wish I knew. The destroyed houses, the debris hanging in the trees, and the towns left vacant gave me reasons to take a 21 hour drive to Biloxi, MS. Hurricane Katrina.
It left the town a mess. People’s lives were literally scattered around the city. I had seen the stories on the news, internet and T.V. shows, but standing in the midst of the destruction, it became real to me. I was no longer on my couch watching. I was there. I needed to help.
Flood waters reached eight feet high in the grade school. The school had been rebuilt, but the library hadn’t been restored. We spent the day labeling and organizing hundreds of books. As a class of first graders walked into the library, their wide smiles and bright faces showed me how happy they were to have books to read.
Throughout the trip, I talked with victims. Talking to them was not what I expected. Their lives had been destroyed; yet, they were gracious, thankful and kind. The victims found joy in the simple. These same people showed me true perseverance through their hardships and tragedy; they never gave up.
I spent part of the week with a girl named Emily. She was four-years- old and had the cutest southern accent. After the hurricane hit, her father left and her mother returned to a life of drugs, so Emily was left with her ill grandparents. At four, Emily’s story was tragic, but her innocence protected her. She knew nothing other than the life she lived. It was all she had. By the end of the trip she was calling me Mommy. I think of Emily often because I know as she grows older, this innocence will disappear and she’ll be left with questions without answers. Emily’s life will not be easy and I hope she will have learned from her parent’s mistakes. Emily was only four, but she taught me something not every four year old could teach me.
Emotionally spending time with children and talking to victims was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, but I also helped out physically with rebuilding. A doctor’s office. Yet another thing I take for granted. We went to a free clinic; where the victims would go for free medical care. We talked with people who waited there all day for help, but hadn’t been able to get any. There were too many patients waiting and not enough doctors to talk with them. We built a medicine and supplies shed so the doctors could easily access what they needed and quickly move onto their next patient. I am not a builder, so standing and working in 90 degree heat was not something I wanted to do. But knowing that doing this would allow doctors to serve more patients gave me the initiative to build anyway.
Spring break 2007. I didn’t go to Hawaii or California, or site seeing in Europe. I had the privilege to go to Biloxi, Mississippi, for five days. I couldn’t brag about my dark tan or my souvenirs. But I returned with something more valuable. I returned a changed person. I realized how much I take for granted, I realized innocence is precious and I realized true joy comes from serving others--not from serving yourself.

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