On Wednesday night I attended a concert at Grace Lutheran Church in New Orleans. Grace is located on Canal street, right off the 610 freeway, and was flooded with probably 10 feet or more of water.The last time I was there there was mold growing on the ceiling, and stacks of ruined organ pieces piled high. It was wonderful to see this church being restored.
The event was a concert of Hope and Healing given by Ken Medema, who sang several songs that he had written, and then spent the last half of his concert hearing people's stories and making up a song about them on the spot. The best song was one about Winnebagos from Minnesota bearing snow shovels. Snow shovels? Well, what better thing to use to shovel out the muck and mud from your home after it's been sitting underwater for several weeks? And you can't buy them around here!
One of the songs he sang was about the call of ordinary people to be heroes. Surely you've read stories in the news about ordinary people who behaved heroically in the days, weeks and months following Katrina's arrival. You probably didn't hear about my neighbors, who took in their family whose homes had flooded: 4 adults and 4 children (added to their own 4 children) and NEVER ONCE complained. Who refused our offers of our guest room.
You also probably haven't heard about my husband, but I think he behaved rather heroically, and I'm going to brag about him for the rest of this post.
When Katrina started making a beeline for New Orleans he was out of town, in Mobile, at a conference. He called and said "leave now." So MQ and I headed up to Kentucky with our friends who had just arrived, hoping to spend a long weekend with us before our friend shipped to Iraq. Instead, we spent a long weekend on the Army Post watching CNN and awaiting news.
My husband returned home, and did all the things I did not think to do. He grabbed the scrapbooks. He videotaped all our belongings. He took our love letters out of the back of the closet, the old yearbooks out of the attic. He helped neighbors move things in out their backyards. And then he "evacuated." He went to stay with some friends in Folsom, Louisiana. I looked at a map, and yelled at him on the phone "that's not evacuating! That's crossing the street!!!" Sure, he got out of the mandatory evacuation area, but he was by no means out of the blast of the hurricane. He hunkered down there, staying with Boy Scouts and Red Cross professionals, wanting to be of help in the days after the storm.
When the storm passed they went out with chainsaws and started clearing streets. They cleared a path so the sheriff's officers could get out of the station where they had hunkered down. He cleared out a path to our home, and to other homes. He started trying to locate the friends and people from our church that we knew had stayed behind. Then, he took the church directory, and checked the home of every single person on it. He took notes of what needed to be done, and dispatched the motley crew of workers from our congregation to cut trees off of roofs, put tarps over holes, check on missing people. He would leave notes at homes, telling people were to find them. When we were finally (and sporadically) able to speak on the phone, he would give me updates, and I would call and e-mail people to let them know the damage on their house. He would check on homes of other friends and acquaintances that I and other people passed on to him. A friend of ours contacted us when her boss could not find his mother who had been evacuated from a hospital in New Orleans. He went to local hospitals and looked for her (she was finally found in Atlanta). He took his turn as a guard of our neighborhood, keeping out looters (this is when we discovered that we are the only people in the neighborhood who don't own guns!). He helped gather food from every one's dying freezers, and at the end of the day they would gather together, this crew of 40 or so people, and feast on whatever they could find... from steak to MREs. My husband, terrified of heights, stood on roofs with a chainsaw.
In those weeks after Katrina, when MQ and I had moved on to stay with my parents until it was deemed safe for us to return, my husband was a hero. He helped many, many people. He brought a community together, and those people were heroes, too.