Right Down To The Real Nitty Gritty - Healing The
By Linda M. Sittler
I’m sorry, but I haven’t felt much like myself lately. Caught up in the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, everything else seems trivial; I am determined to join the effort to“do something.”
So, armed with muscle relaxants (incase I overdo it), in the heat of the summer sun, I go down to a shadeless parking lot to join the efforts of a local volunteer group.
I wear the baggiest tee shirt and capris—as I know the asphalt parking lot is a relentless heat absorber. Then I quickly learn “the drift” from the few volunteers—people will drive up to donate, we’ll sort the items, box, tape, label, and load them onto trucks headed for the Astrodome.
Sounds easy enough, I am thinking. I can do this. But the job isn’t as easy as I first imagine. It is 90+ degrees outside, we are only a handful of volunteers, there are a massive amount of items strewn all over the ground in an asphalt lot, there aren’t enough boxes, tape or markers, some items are not at all usable, and carrying boxes is backbreaking work.
But I want to “make a difference,” so I will do this, I say to myself. I continue sorting through the mess of items, cutting and making lids for the only boxes we could get (without lids), and carefully hording a roll of tape among four of us. I work until my clothes are soaking from perspiration and sweat pours down my eyelids.
The longer I work, the hotter I become, but the better I start to feel. This is my test of endurance. I want to share the pain of those who have suffered so much loss.
After my marathon day--from Friday morning through night-- I am totally “wiped out” for the next two days. I feel like a soldier who has just gone through boot camp. Nevertheless I decide to return to the parking lot on Monday and seek out the person in charge, to find out what more I can do to help.
The elusive head volunteer, on her cellphone, runs back and forth from one end of the donation site to the other, picking up items, giving directions, and accepting checks from willing people. Then she takes a moment to stop and talk with me, making me aware that she has been working like this (non-stop from daybreak to the wee hours of the night) everyday since the hurricane and will continue to do so until many of the neediest are helped.
She tells me that donations are starting to dwindle—people get tired of donating after the first week or two--and that she wants to advertise their ongoing presence in the parking lot until the end of September. She needs someone to call radio stations and newspapers, as well as corporate sponsors and pharmaceutical sponsors (for over-the-counter drugs).
Getting one truckload of goods to the Astrodome, she let’s me know, costs about $2000 (for the rental, driver and gasoline), so there is a desperate need for money to cover the number of trucks she is sending.
The tireless head volunteer had just returned from a grueling weekend at the Astrodome, riding down with her caravan of loaded trucks, which delivered life-sustaining supplies to the tragic victims of the hurricane.
She then opens her car door and removes the album of pictures that she took there, saying, “I’m working here from morning till night every single day. The stories I heard there are heartbreaking. I have no time to call a reporter or tell anyone about it; but someone should know.”
First she shows me a picture of the orphaned 2-year-old girl in the gigantic shirt that almost touches the floor. Her mother and father had both died. Next is the empty cot of the man who had just passed away. She points out his bible; the only thing he owned.
There is the picture of a bed strewn with teddy bears—a memorial made by the mother of a child who had just died, and the one of the man who wrote his first and last name in crayon on a scrap of cardboard above his bed. She asked him why he did that and he said, “so that people will remember who I am if I die during the night.”
She told me about the mother she met who tried to escape the flood with her baby in one arm and a 4-year-old in the other. The mother wasn’t strong enough to hold her 4-year-old totally above the water. Although they had made it to the Astrodome, the little boy had just died of aspiration pneumonia.
The grieving mother insisted this local group keep her little son’s treasured nightlight. He had been afraid of the night and it was his most cherished possession. It now hangs as a memorial to the brave little 4-year-old in the parking lot.
Lately I have no patience when I hear remarks that can be so common to any of us living comfortable lives: “You never know where your money goes when you donate to charities—whether it goes to the people who need it or to the organization and, by the way, I forgot to get my receipt for the old clothes I donated.”
I look at what local leaders give of themselves--in their relentless efforts to organize, gather, and distribute goods and money to the displaced and downtrodden, as well as in generous hugs and tears of compassion with victims, and in listening to and honoring their traumatic stories. It can put the rest of us to shame.
So if I ever start to think that my 8 bags of clothing, the couple of $100 checks, the phone calls, the emails, the periodic packing and loading with volunteers that I do is enough, I look toward the compassionate heroes around me for inspiration. I will try to go the extra mile to come one step closer to the kind of compassion shown by these exemplary giants.
Life is so short; so precious to all of us. We baby boomers can do great things. Let’s re-discover our idealism, face again our real values, and leave a great living example of what we can do--together. We have much more to offer of our time and talents--if we quietly listen to the overwhelming needs around us and selflessly respond to the best of our abilities.
Let’s become selfless heroes--putting our personal problems, differences, excuses, and roadblocks aside. As the Nike ads say, “Just Do It”-- for all our brothers and sisters in need—and don’t stop.