Life Lessons from Katrina

Two weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit New Orleans…again. We were there four and a half years ago, just after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As we drove through what is known as the Ninth Ward, which was hit most directly by the devastating storm, we saw the power of the forces of nature with our own eyes. It still looked exactly as it did after Katrina hit on August 25, 2005, five months earlier.

As luck would have it, the beautiful old mansions of New Orleans were on higher ground and most were not damaged much by the storm. It seemed somehow so unfair that those with the most had the least damage.

In other parts of town, people had drained their houses and were moving back in!

The interesting thing about going back five years after the havoc wreaked by Katrina was that everyone we spoke to including our drivers, our friends in the organization we went to speak for, people in the restaurants and at the mall claimed that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to them!

Of course those who lost family members or a dear friend would not be able to say that but by and large people just couldn’t get over the things they learned from being a part of the biggest hurricane disaster in US history! There were trials they would never have asked for but they wouldn’t give up what they learned from them for anything!

“It’s something we’ll never forget! It was such a blessing to be able to give refuge in our house to ten other adults and eight kids with six dogs in the garage,” one woman said. Another remembered housing media people coming back to their home in nearby Baton Rouge for a place to sleep because there was absolutely no place else for them to stay as they covered the story. “Every night they would come in totally exhausted and covered with water and mud from head to toe, ” she said.

One young woman said that she was a student at University of New Orleans at the time. She said, “It was a year I’ll never forget. I learned more in that year than I had for all the rest of my life put together!. They brought in an old battleship which served as our dorm rooms for the entire school year. We studied hard but we also found time to help those who needed help so desperately.”

One of our drivers said that his greatest regret in life was that he had heard about the storm and had decided to leave town. He was a writer and would give his eyeteeth to have been there to gather stories on the ground as the storm progressed.

The city, thanks to an enormous number of generous donors including Brad Pitt has pretty much been transformed and put back together. The streets were clean, the food was fabulous (as always) and in general, things were better than they were before the storm.

They even have a new roof on the now famous Super Dome, once the home of tens of thousands of those who fled their homes.

The thing that most people mentioned when they talked about their learning experiences was that they were forced to change! They soon realized that life was never really going to be the same. Of course many people left and never came back as they realized how good people were to them where they “landed”. To everyone who experienced Hurricane Katrina first hand, life became more important and every day from then on was more precious.

The Katrina aftermath reminded us of one of our family’s favorite quotes by Storm Jameson:

Happiness? It is an illusion to think that more comfort brings more happiness.
True happiness comes from the capacity to think freely, to enjoy simple, to feel deeply, to risk life, to be needed!.

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