Abandonment and Hope in Katrina’s Aftermath

In the aftermath of Katrina it’s clear that
an unspoken fear and an unrealized yearning haunt us–fear of abandonment and a
yearning for hope.

I’m haunted by three things in the aftermath of Katrina. The deaths of those left behind. The fear that continues to affect victims–fear of abandonment, fear for the future and fear of returning to the water. And third, a yearning for hope.

One of the most common concerns I heard in five days travel throughout the Gulf Coast was the fear of abandonment. It’s not just among those affected by the hurricane. Having endured trauma, their fear is understandable. But life has been so completely unsettled by this tragedy that even the caregivers are rattled.

I heard stories, often interrupted by tears. People spoke softly of fear. Will they be forgotten? Will they be able to recover? Will there be jobs again? When? The disaster has been disorienting.

One young New Orleans carpenter in Meridian, Mississippi faces a dilemma. His skills will be in demand in New Orleans. But his wife and young daughter are afraid to go back there to live. He is debating how to work in the city and commute on weekends to Meridian.

He is among the fortunate. He knows his skills will be wanted. Others are not so sure. Workers in destroyed businesses don’t know how they will survive until, or if, their former employers re-build. This has been an equal opportunity disaster, of course. Lawyers and physicians don’t know how their practices will recover.
Some pastors have neither churches nor parishioners. Schools have been destroyed. The diaspora has left whole towns emptied. Where is hope to be found?

But there is hope. Lots of hope. It began to take root even in the temporary shelters where evacuees found safety, hospitality and support. Some residents told me the shelters, many of which were in church auditoriums, had become home. The stability they so fervently needed led them to be grateful for the cramped, un-private spaces of these shelters.

But the support that shelter workers provided made the difference. Evacuees not only found safety, they found compassionate community in the shelter workers, virtually all of whom are volunteers. Evacuees may criticize government leaders, FEMA, insurance companies and others, but not one that I talked to criticized the shelters run by the Red Cross and local churches.

When people work together, share burdens and serve the good of all, community develops, even in the most menacing circumstances. In this, we can take hope.

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