One year ago, I remember watching CNN before going to bed and the latest news was that Hurricane Katrina was headed for land, but might not hit as hard as once expected. The next morning we turned the TV on again, and the preliminary reports were that the storm hit, and hit pretty hard, but things appeared to somewhat under control. It wasn’t until days later that the length and breadth of the disaster started rearing its ugly face. The images were as devastating and horrific as any war-torn, third world country. And as fingers started pointing, and accusations started flying, and the list of failures continued to grow, I think I felt for the first time a sense of national humiliation. We were supposed to have been better than this.
And yet, my neighborhood looked exactly the same. The weather had been great. It was finally cooling off at night. The grass was green, the trees stood proud, and the flowers were in their prime. It was hard to imagine it was even real. Our next-door neighbors invited us to lunch on the Saturday following the storm. Lonestar Steakhouse was donating all of their proceeds that day to the Hurricane Relief Fund. So, the eight of us had chicken and steak and tipped 30% to do our part for the victims. It felt like such a meager offering.
I think life is so funny that way. Unless it is your own personal tragedy playing out, life just continues to go on as usual and you furrow your brow and feel sick in your heart for a minute, but then you remember that you need to pick up more toothpaste at the grocery store and stamps at the post office, and maybe this weekend would be a good time to finally clean out the garage. I’m not saying it’s wrong, it’s just the way it is.
In my community, we feed each other. At the first hint of loss, sickness, or devastation, we start opening cans of Cream of Mushroom soup and making a casserole. You show up on a doorstep, and you offer a warm tray of food knowing that it doesn’t really make anything better.
It was a late afternoon in August three years ago when storm clouds were brewing outside our home. Ryan was standing in our living room on the phone with his sister, Andrea, hearing for the first time about the tumors in his mother’s lungs. He sank into the couch and beat the cushion with his fist as thunder clapped outside. That was the beginning of our hurricane. And all throughout, it amazed me that people were still out buying toothpaste and cleaning their garages. Two months later, outside my mother-in-law’s home at 1:00 in the morning, we met with the mortician and began picking up the pieces from the storm.
The casseroles I had thought so silly before this, began showing up at our door during that time. And I was right that they didn’t really change our circumstances. They didn’t cure cancer. They didn’t ease pain. But I was wrong to think that they didn’t do anything. First of all, Maurine’s meatloaf is heavenly, and I don’t even like meatloaf. Not to mention all the stews and soups and my mom’s special macaroni and cheese. But I’ll tell you this—there is something about the act of being nourished by your friends. Call it symbolism if you want, but I think that one of the most spiritual feelings is having confirmation that somebody cares. Who knew that could come in the form of a 9×13 dish?
So, on this day of countless anniversaries, while some people are still trying to rebuild their homes, or meet with specialists, or lawyers, or funeral homes, I just want to say that while I do need to pick up some toothpaste, I get it. I get what’s going on. And I can bring dinner by sometime around 6:30 if that would work.