Home » Thursday Re-View » Thursday Re-View – Hurricane Katrina: Houma, Louisiana, Part I

Thursday Re-View – Hurricane Katrina: Houma, Louisiana, Part I

Katrina

“For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,

a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,

ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.”
Mt 25:31-46

In September 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I spent 2 weeks in Louisiana volunteering as a mental health professional with the American Red Cross, followed by another 2 weeks in December. I was assigned to the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center, one of 3 counselors to provide services to the 1,000 Katrina victims who were housed there, along with offering emotional support to the other Red Cross workers, the Southern Baptist Convention folks who provided meals, the Civic Center workers, and the visiting National Guard.

The people were primarily from the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, the poorest of the poor, without the means to evacuate the city when mandated to do so. I met so many wonderful people: resilient, strong of faith, kind-hearted – people who had nothing, yet who had everything, and were filled with gratitude. Their words echo still:

• A young man, his leg amputated after waiting 5 days for his rescue: “They made me leave my dog, Yogi, but I left him enough food for a week. I never should have left him.

• A young woman who nursed her invalid father-in-law, who had served at Iwo Jima, long after his son had left the marriage: “Miss Theresa – always remember to look up, toward the Lord. He will make all things right.”

• The Southern Baptist cooks: “Miss Theresa – sit down and eat; you look exhausted.”

• An articulate man in his 30s, dressed in ill-fitting, donated clothing: “Miss Theresa – are they going to shoot us?” [referring to the National Guard, ever-present with their weapons]

• A man on the brink of suicide, with nothing to live for: “That was my godmother’s name – Theresa – maybe she’s been watching over me and will help me to find my brothers.” [They were found in Alabama.]

• An elderly, barefoot woman in a walker, while I fitted her with shoes: “Get up; you shouldn’t be on the floor. They don’t have to fit that good. ” [It is a privilege; her calloused and twisted feet told the story of her life.]

• A veteran of Somalia and the First Gulf War: “I don’t need a peacekeeper, Miss Theresa. I just need the National Guard to apologize [for an unfounded accusation]. I’m a human being, just like them.”

• An uprooted shrimper, who lost his boat and only means of support: “When you go North, be a voice for us poor in New Orleans; we are still valuable and good people.” [I kept my promise to you, Eddie. Even now.]

When my deployment was finished, I made the rounds to say good-bye to my new friends, the people from whom I had learned so much. When I reached Booker T and Betty Lou, a couple in their 80s, displaced with their 7 children and some of their 43 grandchildren, they were packing, hoping to head to Texas to start a new life. Betty Lou grabbed hold of me, closed her eyes, and sang a Negro spiritual, hugging me tightly and brushing at my shoulders.

One gnarled black hand, where every crevice had been earned, gently grasping one younger, smoother white one, both baptized with our tears. Booker T took both of my hands in his and sang hymns of praise, thanking God for sending me to him in the depths of his despair, when he most needed a friend, in answer to his prayers.

I think Booker T got it wrong. Standing in the midst of 1,000 people, as Booker T and Betty Lou held me in their arms (wings?), my prayers had been answered, and I felt at home.

Circles of Grace – sacred ground – a community of the heart. Home.

A drawing given to me by Eddie, an evacuee who stayed at the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center where I volunteered.

A drawing given to me by Eddie, an evacuee who stayed at the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center where I volunteered.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,

a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,

ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.”
Mt 25:31-46

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