The Pain in New Orleans is Beyond Physical

The pain in New Orleans is beyond the
obvious physical wounds that are so common in a disaster. They are more than
property damage.

The volunteer stood in a parking lot in the baking hot sun. When the Red Cross vehicles park in a neighborhood, people appear as if from nowhere. A neighborhood that seems deserted is, in fact, inhabited by the walking wounded, and their wounds are not always visible to the eye.

This volunteer, along with some of his partners on the team, presents a rugged exterior. He’s lost a few teeth. Tattoos decorate arms and legs. His voice is husky, if not gruff. Tough exterior.

In this poor section of New Orleans those left behind, either through lack of ability to get out or by their own stubborn choice to remain, come to the truck looking for clean water, food, cleanup supplies, trash bags, diapers–all those everyday things that one needs and takes for granted until an emergency throws life into a loop.

One man comes looking for MREs. Ready-made military meals. Another wants only a sponge and mop. A woman, displaying a multitude of insect bites on her legs, wants repellant. One man comes clutching a prescription medicine container. And one frail, dangerously thin man slowly negotiates his way down two flights of stairs from a low-rent apartment and shuffles across a parking lot and a street to get whatever food the volunteers will give him.

After making this long trek he sits on the front bumper of our van to gather his strength. He asks for water, food and a sponge. A long scar on his back evidences surgery, now heeled.

Given the supplies, he discovers he’s too weak to lift them. The volunteer in the truck jumps down to help but two young men from the neighborhood offer to carry his burden to his apartment. They ask only that the truck leave them some diapers.

Four National Guardsmen stand around the truck, witnessing to the toughness of this block. As the young men return from the older man’s apartment he hands them the sponge he’s just received from the volunteer. Payment for their help. He shuffles slowly back across the lot, rests on a concrete pylon and then slowly, agonizingly steps up the two flights of stairs to his apartment.

Back in the parking lot the hard-bitten, tattooed volunteer recounts in a soft voice that one man came to him in this same spot and said, “My wife and daughter died in my house. I’m not leaving now.”

“People tell you the most personal things,” he said. His voice cracks, tears well in his eyes, he looks down and covers his face. His tough exterior has been penetrated by the suffering humanity he has come to serve.

The pain in New Orleans is beyond the obvious. Souls have been wounded here, and strong, caring people, no matter how tough their exterior facade, can see more than damaged buildings.

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