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Slow-Motion Tragedy


It was a year after Katrina devastated New Orleans that we happened to attend a conference that was held in the French Quarter, which was almost untouched by the hurricane.  My wife said that unique aroma of the French Quarter was stronger but otherwise the same.  Knowing there was devastation all around us, we were offered a chance to extend our visit to spend a day helping with their recovery.  It was unforgettable.

We were taken to a small neighborhood of modest homes built on slabs.  There was almost no sound , with only a few birds.  It was mostly deserted.  A few homes had tiny trailers in their front yard, smaller than any camping trailer.  Each trailer consisted of one room, containing a bed, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a tiny bathroom without a shower.  At the house where we worked, we met Irene.  She was about 65-years-old, short and wide, and had obviously never been afforded an education.  The renovation of her home was relatively far long, and we spent the day, mostly painting fresh drywall.

Three things have stuck with me.  First, she had a small shed in the back yard with asphalt shingles for a roof.  Yet, a limb with a 3 inch diameter pierced that shingle roof at a 90 degree angle.  It is hard to imagine such wind power.  Another mental image was her one-piece fiberglass bath tub.  The scum line was about a foot from the 7 foot ceiling, which meant the water was six feet deep inside her house.  It was a wonder that the house survived.  The house next door was boarded-up with condemned signs posted on it.

But, the strongest memory is Irene, probably a victim of discrimination and poverty all her life.  She was so thankful, so appreciative, such a sweet lady.  It was an honor to have helped her in some small way.

Today, I will break my 24/6 rule to avoid news on Saturday.  I know there must be many thousands of “Irenes” in coastal Texas.  I care about them and pray they stay safe from the hurricane and the inevitable flooding afterwards.  As I look out my window over the Chesapeake Bay, I mutter under my breath . . . “there, but for the grace of God . . .”

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