The people we helped move were parents of the sound technician at Trinity Church, Liam. When we pulled up to the house, I was a little surprised at how nice the neighborhood was and little damage it appeared to have.
Mandeville, Louisiana had not been flooded. The winds had come to knock over trees and take out some roofs, but in comparison there was minor damage. Kathleen, whose house it was we helped pack up, was a kind woman, who, although, she didn’t admit it at first, was not ready to leave. She couldn’t decide where the boxes she had packed should go; to her everything she had was fragile. At first her indecisions was ok. About an hour into the process she was driving me crazy, and then two hours into it, I realized how much she was hurting. It was a sea of emotion she was trying to swim through. 55 years in New Orleans, this all she knew.
One thing she said to us which I thought through quite a bit later was “I feel so bad with all my stuff, when people here have lost everything, and I haven’t lost any…but then again, I have to move. We’ve lost our jobs. How sad to leave and to leave these people in need.” Kathleen was definitely learning to let go, and for here it wasn’t the material possessions she owned. It was the more important things—the people she knew the family she loved and the house, which represented the life she knew.
At lunch time (her husband bought us Quiznos subs) we asked the man of the house about the specifics of Katrina’s damage to New Orleans and the history of the city.
It was incredible to hear all the history and terrible to see what happened from the hurricane. As we finished lunch, one of the neighbors, Miss Sarah, brought us ice cream. As we sat and talked with her, the “Red Hat” ladies appeared. Liam’s great aunt, who was 91 years old and her sister, Ursula or 83 years, stopped by to say “hey y’all”. Miss Ursula had lost her house in Mississippi. She told us about how it was completely destroyed—all of her antique furniture, her husband’s possessions (who had passed away 5 years before) gone. Her reaction to it all caught me the most. “It’s all material right. Only material.” And I could see as I watched her how tough it had been to come to that point. The only thing she knew for certain at this point was that she was visiting her sister. The two together were quite the pair: they had set up a game of bunko for later in the evening, and they were regular members of the “Red Hat” Society.
At the end of this day, I was more emotionally exhausted than I had been physically exhausted the night before. Meeting these people and learning their stories was worth more than anything else. In a way, it was far greater service than cleaning out a moldy house.