It has taken me over a week to even attempt to articulate the very thoughts and feelings that have consumed me in the wake of our trip. As I reflect on what was probably one of the most moving and influential weeks of my life, I'm left with so much to say I can hardly speak.
At the outset of this trip, I think we all experienced a flurry of emotions....excitement at the prospect of exploring a new city....eagerness to get to work, speak with residents, hear their stories....hope that we would actually make a difference....and, fear that we would fail to change much of anything or be ill-received by residents.
The week, of course, offered no respite from the emotional turbulence. From gazing across the wreckage of the Lower Ninth Ward to hearing heart-wrenching tales of loss and tragedy, I was often overcome by feelings of sorrow, guilt, and helplessness. And yet somehow, as I look back on last week, I am filled with so much gratitude, inspiration, and hope.
Many of us have probably asked ourselves at some point: Was it all worth it? Did we even make a difference? Even aside from the SHN project, I think we accomplished something major last week. At a very basic level, we did this by simply being there and lending an attentive ear. So many people just wanted to vent and be heard. We can all recall those residents who sat with us for over an hour, recounting their stories and talking our ears off. When virtually marginalized by their governments, it’s understandable why they so desperately needed to hear that others have not forgotten and still care. Numerous times, we received heartfelt expressions of gratitude for just being there and doing whatever we could to help. I was almost loath to receive such thanks since I felt relatively helpless up against the grand bureaucratic scheme holding the keys to their recovery. Yet their deep appreciation likely stems from a sense of neglect and desertion, which renders the presence of volunteers in the area so vital. I cling to the hope that our presence, in some measure, helped to fill that void.
Another thing that inspires me is the passion of these extraordinary people. Although bruised and tattered, their spirits are certainly not broken. The city is still brimming with personality and heart – people continue to wave and smile at random passersby; the sweet sounds of local brass bands reverberate through the evening air; even mardi gras beads can be seen adorning tombstones and the entrance to abandoned homes, left as signs of life at otherwise inert sites. Amid the devastation and immeasurable sadness lies unrestrained faith and pride. The residents are anxious to rebuild and restore
Their strength and gratitude instill me with hope that our work was and continues to be, at least, some small step towards the rebirth of this great, beloved city.
** To the people of