Today’s post comes from the final chapter of Hearts across the Water. If you’ve been following our blog, we’re looking at stories from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
These two 2005 storms did more than change the landscape of southern Louisiana.
It brought about seismic changes that are still echoing across this part of America.
Today’s post was written about ten days after Hurricane Rita hit SW Louisiana.
Be Grateful for a hurricane-free 2015.
A Word from Curt
Today is our last post from Hearts across the Water.
It’s been a good time reflecting on these stories from the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Rita.
Thanks for taking this journey with us.
Epilogue: No Words Can Express
Saying goodbye is never easy.. After our shelter maxed out at over 400 in the days after hurricane Katrina, we began a slow process of sending folks out. Each one had a unique story of how they got to the City of Hope shelter. The stories of their subsequent journeys were just as diverse.
There were families that left for Kansas to start a new life.
That special day when two country women from Arkadelphia Baptist spent an entire day wading through red tape to get a plane ticket to Honduras for an evacuee to return to medical school.
Families traveling together.
Individuals leaving one-by-one.
Simmie and her mother going to Washington, D.C.
Most came to say goodbye to our staff.
Others left at unusual times and left a note or message with other evacuees.
But the day that broke my heart was the Sunday after Rita. Our power and water were out and realistically we told the evacuees that it might be days or weeks before these were restored. Nearly two hundred of our friends left on this Sunday.. They were heading to other locations where lodging and services would be available.
Most of the Hispanic group was returning to New Orleans’ Westbank.
One-by-one and in groups they came by to say goodbye. There were tears, laughter, and a bittersweet mixture of every emotion. They were glad to be returning toward home and restarting life. Yet they were sad to leave the place they had come to love. Several even argued against leaving by saying, “It will look like we are abandoning our Dry Creek friends who have stood by us.”
Our staff had these same bittersweet feelings. We were exhausted and the idea of being shelter-free appealed to us. It had been a wonderful but draining time. Additionally, we knew we could not take care of the needs of our evacuees. The lack of water was especially acute and worried all of us. So we were glad to see the majority of our evacuees leaving.
Yet at the same time we hated to release them. You can never go back and recapture the feelings from a special time. We had been together in times of great challenge. We had become close.
As our friends came by to say goodbye, this sentence started nearly every farewell:
“Words cannot express how we feel about all of you.”
Amazingly as if they had rehearsed together, they repeated it: “No words can tell…I cannot tell you how much. Never could I ever say with words.”
No matter the accent—New Orleans seaport, Down the Bayou Cajun, Cameron Parish brogue, or Honduran Spanish—they all expressed it.
Usually with tears… “I have no words.”
And suddenly I was transported back to where this journey through the waters began … on the streets and beaches of Indonesia.
There is a tradition among the Acehnese men of Northern Sumatra. When they meet you, and feel connected with you, they will shake your hand and then draw their right hand back to their chest with several open-handed soft slaps against their chest.
I was enthralled with this. If I understood it fully, this response means I have met you and our hearts are connected. I grew to love it and considered it an honor in the times when one of our drivers or a village leader would extend this greeting or benediction to one of our team.
I nicknamed it “The Acehnese chest thump.” However it is not really a thump or even a sharp slap. It is simply a gesture that softly pats the heart and says, “My heart is yours. Because you have come so far to help our people, our lives and hearts are connected. Take my heart with you as you go.”
In addition to bringing back these stories from Indonesia as I promised my new friends there, I also brought back their hearts with me. They are not long out of my mind. I also know that I left parts of my heart there also.
But then unexpectedly, folks have come to my Louisiana hometown and left parts of their hearts here with us. Although they didn’t use the Acehnese chest thump to demonstrate their feelings, their tear-choked comments of what “words cannot express” said the same thing:
“Our hearts have connected. We are together. You have my heart.”
And my heart has gone back with them.
No longer is New Orleans just the major city of our state.
A city I love and a city I hate.
It is now my city.
It is no longer just a huge metropolitan area that ignores the rest of our state.
It is a hurting city of ruins that needs us.
It is a city of faces—Belkis, David, Ed, Swamp Jimmy, Madeline, Pastor Dwayne, Edwin and Mercedes, Carl and Mamie, Ivan. The list could go on..
We are all united.
Joined at the heart.
Hearts brought together by the terrible destruction of water.
Hearts across the water.