Finding Beauty in The Struggle
When I wrote my last post, "Keys to Developing Resilience," I had no clue that a massive storm would soon devastate parts of Louisiana. After re-reading my post, I realized that those tips were great for anyone facing devastation and preparing to rebuild their lives, materially and mentally. As I watched the events unfold, I was immediately taken back 11 years ago when I was unexpectedly uprooted from life, as I knew it, and told to remain strong and rebuild. At 17 years old, I didn't have the strength or mental capacity to understand what was really happening. I was in a daze. As I moved to a new city and started my senior year at a new school, I maintained a smile on my face but inside, I was hurting. My hurt was not only for my lost, but for my family, my city, and my mother. My mother whom I watched glow with resilience to ensure that her family did not crumble under the pressure of mass devastation.
When we evacuated to Florida, we lived near a cemetery. Every afternoon on my drive home from school, I would see an elderly gentlemen sitting near a grave site, alone. One afternoon, I decided to pull over and sit with him. On the first day, we didn't exchange a word. I could sense his curiosity, but he never acknowledged me. He just sat there. And as we sat for those few minutes, without a word, we gave each other peace. What we needed was support, to know that someone cared, and in that moment, we provided that for each other. After a few minutes, I got in my car and left, but I returned everyday. As the days passed, we began to share stories. He told me how he and his wife were childhood sweethearts. They grew up together and never separated until her death. Everything he knew about life was loving her. So when she died, he could not go a day without seeing her, even if it was in a grave. He shared stories from his childhood and told me how his kids were too busy living their own lives to visit him. I shared my experience with Hurricane Katrina and complained about my senior year being ruined. He never condemned me or judged my immaturity. He simply allowed me to talk through my pain. As the days went by, I slowly became aware of how foolish I was being. I was sitting next to someone who had lost someone he loved, forever, and all I could talk about was my lost of material things and what I knew life to be. I soon realized that my senior year of high school was not lost, it was simply rewritten. Through our talks, I gained wisdom and a peace that even I didn't understand. He gained the one thing that he had been missing for years, companionship. We both had no clue that the 17 year old, liberal, black girl from New Orleans could leave such a huge impression on an 84 year old, conservative, white man from Florida. Being strong for him helped me to forget my feelings of weakness.
Til this day, I always wonder about him: how his days went after I left and if his children ever stopped to notice him. My family still tease me about being weird enough to go sit in a cemetery and talk to a stranger, but I'm happy that I was open enough to stop my car that day. That unexpected friendship showed me that in the face of adversity, we all need someone. Someone who will just listen and be there to support you. Someone who can calm your crazy.
For those of you who are looking at your gutted house frames and possessions spread across the front lawn, feeling hopeless, please understand that the process gets easier. On September 1st, 2005, I was pessimistic and discouraged. On September 1st, 2006, I looked back on one of the best years of my life. The friendships I gained, the experiences we shared, and the strength I possessed would have never been, if it wasn't for the devastation of Katrina.
Devastation does not just come in the form of natural disasters. Everyday people face devastation through life events. As we navigate the craziness of this world, I encourage each of you to be there for someone. This may be a person that you least expect. Step outside of yourself and allow selflessness. The support you provide to them might actually help you more than it was ever intended to help them. But even if it doesn't, just knowing that you are someone's encouragement, will help you smile a little easier.