Endless agony. A dull headache that wouldn’t end. Desperate text messages to friends who resided down there because dialing any number with a 504 area code only left you with a busy signal.
Even when Hurricane Katrina was just a blip on the radar, on a projected path to New Orleans we waited nervously, anxiously, hoping that all of our friends and loved ones were out of its path.
We went to sleep with it, woke up with it and lived surrounded by the pain of watching this thing unfold. I mean we literally couldn’t take our eyes off of it.
And the helplessness I felt was so sickening. I’m watching places I frequented practically on a daily basis go underwater, memories that can’t be relived, getting swallowed up in a sea of death.
I watched the people on TV that looked like me and my family members literally abandoned, stranded, suffering, dying and I got practically nauseous with anxiety and overcome with the constant heaviness I felt. We all did. It was all we talked about in the newsroom, at church, in phone conversations, in emails. But we weren’t just talking.
We were all desperate, desperate to find a way to help. And we did.
We told their stories, we volunteered, we donated money, clothes, time, ourselves.
Two years later, our lives are back to normal, but their lives will never be the same.
I think of my dear church member who evacuated here prior to the hurricane and has been with our church ever since. And I think of how this retired woman’s life now consists of making regular 5-hour trips to her New Orleans East home to keep a watchful eye on the contractors and make sure they aren’t ripping her off as she’s seen so many contractors do with other residents.
I think about another evacuee we took in at our church’s shelter. She’s now calls this city home for her and her two children, one of whom still gets terrified when storms come through.
I think about all the stories of people I interviewed, people I talked to. I think those I’ve met who want to go back, but can’t. Those who can go back, but never want to. Those who lost loved ones.
In a world where tragedies are condensed into 30-second sound-bytes or hyperlinks and dismissed with the click of a remote control, the click of a mouse or the tossing of a newspaper, we all have to do what we can to keep the memory of this human tragedy alive.
We have to keep it alive if for no other reason than to have it serve as a reminder that nothing in life is guaranteed.
Even if you pay your taxes and insurance bill on time, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be safe, protected or exempt when tragedy arrives.
At least that was my lesson.
What did you learn from Hurricane Katrina? What are your memories? What did you do? Or better yet, what are you doing now?