Actually, as I am writing... it's Monday.
I went to WalMart this morning to pick up my cd's of the pictures I took yesterday. As I walked into the store I was greeted by a beautiful woman I would imagine in her 60's - everything about her was beautiful, how she styled her hair, her poise, the gentleness in her facial countenance, the smile in her eyes. I was returning a faulty working item purchased at WalMart as well as picking up the cd's. So I needed to get my "pink sticker" from her to make the return.
As she greeted me and gave me my sticker I became keenly aware of my feeling "low". And I asked her for a happy face sticker, which I put on my wrist. She told me even if you are feeling low "God is with you and it will be okay". I felt touched by her compassion. She wasn't "preaching at me" as some would when speaking of God, I felt the depth of her own faith in her sharing with me.
As I went and took care of business, I began processing what was bothering me. It was a last encounter I had yesterday with an man who was sitting in a chair, on an empty lot, alone - in front of his trailer in this neighborhood in the lower 9th Ward.
And I did what I usually do when driving by, I slowed down to say hello. And I stopped and said hello and he looked past me as if not seeing me. And I looked at him and could see all in a moment, that "he" was not there. Just as his neighborhood - as he once understood it to be - was no longer there. And I bowed my head to him, put my hands together as if in prayer and said blessings to you. And drove away. And my the grief I felt in that moment has continued in this morning and until I was able to talk with Ursula, a former social worker now working the door as a greeter at WalMart, it was too painful to face alone.
And two things occured to me after speaking with Ursula, first she suggested that I go back and visit with him, that perhaps he was having a bad day. And I will follow her good advice. Yet at the same time, there is another part of me that has dealt with incredible suffering which seems to understand at some level of consciousness, that "he" is no longer fully there. I perceive, that some essential aspect of his self - his heart and spirit - is gone. And the other aspects of himself - the parts which created a little sign up by his trailer, that dresses daily, eats, and cleans up his FEMA trailer, are all functioning. I perceived that the part of his self that could "relate" with me, make eye contact with me - is gone - something has died within him.
And then I thought about the "tour" buses that come throught the Lower 9th Ward and people, some very well meaning, like myself, driving through his devastated neighborhood taking pictures or just driving around looking at what the Lower 9th Ward looks like. and what it must feel like to be sitting there - his life, a part of the tour.
I have found that if you take the time to interact with the locals who are trying to pick up their lives, that they will usually stop and speak with you or even wave to you if you give them a wave hello. Often, in my experience I have found that those I speak with will tell me that a break to speak with a stranger can be helpful and even a hopeful experience for them.
But the tour buses, limos with dark tinted glass, and other vehicles that just drive through - without anyone getting out - or greeting the locals, well I think it doesn't and shouldn't sit well with those who are there trying to rebuild. The people of New Orleans and its Parishes are human beings who have suffered through unimaginable tragedy and pain, many continue to do so, in silent dignity. Their lives are not part of a "tour". I can well imagine that the intentions of those who are on the tour is related to the fact that they do care.
Might I suggest the next step if giving a tour of the area? Perhaps everyone should should get out of the buses, vans and vehicles, walk around, talk with those who are there, pick up a trash bag or help out for the afternoon as part of their "tours". Then everyone involved might feel better about the experience.
(And Ursula - how is it that she a former social worker, is working as a greeter at WalMart - she "lost everything herself and now has her house back, bed to sleep on and a table and chair". She was 6 years retired from working with the State and rebuilding has wiped her out financially. what she is rich in and she will be the first to tell you - is the blessings of her family and the gift of her life and her faith in God).