Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A thousand invisible threads

We began work yesterday, albeit quite slowly. Speaking with my friend Stephanie on the phone yesterday, she remarked "But you're not expecting anything to be fast anymore, are you? I'm sure you've noticed by now that things in Louisiana go at their own pace." How true those words rang yesterday as we waited around for Darryl, the site coordinator, to give us a task. We just wanted something to do. Armed with knee pads and protective eye wear, sunscreen and deep woods bug spray, we sat around enjoying the morning breeze, but altogether without a job to do. Some of us wandered away to work in the warehouse unloading relief supplies for folks in the community who come daily to pick up the bottled water, ice, gallons of bleach, diapers for their children. Others (ehem, me), went to exercise their talents and clean up the common room some more.

Finally, a job! We were sent to tear down a shed just five houses down the road. Wait, already gone. Well ... "I guess you can go into Grand Caillou and work with that other team from Oklahoma that's tearing down that house," said Darryl. So we hopped in our cars and headed 12 miles down the road to a community of mobile homes. "This looks much different from Dulac," one of our team remarked. And it did - driving into this neighborhood, we saw intact siding, no piles of rubbish on the side of the road, no signs that said "FEMA, buy us out." But as we traveled further into the neighborhood, we were able to see why we'd been sent. A tan home, set on three rows of cinder blocks, was in the process of being torn down by the team from Yukon, Oklahoma. Yellow spray paint marked the side - "NO TRESPASSING." Not wanting to invade any one's demolition territory, but wanting to help, I cautiously climbed the ladder to the roof and began to tear off one of the five layers of shingles the house had. It was soon obvious that even before the hurricanes, these folks were in dire straights. Holes in the rotting plywood covered the front part of the roof. The back was simply insulated and covered over with sealed tin sheeting.

It took us most of the day to get the house down, but down it came. Folks worked tirelessly - carrying debris to the trash heap, sawing away at support beams. First the left side of the roof, then the right. We were mostly finished when the rain came pouring down and forced us to find shelter.

"We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along those sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results." Ah, Herman Melville, you wise man. I thought of the inter-connectivity of all God's children frequently yesterday. By the end of the day, I had never been so thankful to have a place to stay, to have assurance that I'll have a roof over my head every night. And a roof that doesn't leak, to boot. And it makes me think that, as DOrothy Day pointed out, as long as there are folks living in poverty, as long as there are folks with roofs that leak, as long as there are children with hungry bellies, we are all of us never really rich, or housed, or full. We are connected, all of us God's children, all one body, connected by invisible threads that should make it impossible for some to thrive while others suffer. I can only hope that when this recovery finishes on Friday, those of us working here will bring home a raging fire of passion for justice, desirious to work together to bring about the kind of world where everyone has a safe home and food to eat.

The owners of the house watched us tear down their home yesterday. The woman of the couple was summoned by neighbors who told her "the angels are here." She stood under the shade of the grand old tree in front of her home and spoke with LeEtta, Joanne, and Carolinda, chatted away for half an hour and watched as we destroyed her home. She was looking forward, they told us later. Gustav badly damaged the home, and it was damaged further by Ike, by the water that came into the community in waves. Having reported the Gustav damage to FEMA, they wouldn't let her 'double dip' and get extra money from Ike damages, too. Still, the FEMA money was enough that they were able to take some out of savings and buy a new home, which will arrive on Thursday. They are looking forward with hope.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Thanks for writing! Good to hear first hand how it's going - you're all in our prayers!
-Sarah Cook