Friday, September 30, 2005
"Before God created the world, there was only God. When God decided to create the world, God pulled back in order to create a space for the world. It was in that space that the universe was formed. But now, in that space, there was no God. God created Divine Sparks, light, to be placed back into God's creation. When God created light, and place light inside of Creation, special containers were prepared to hold it. But there was an accident. A cosmic accident. The containers broke. The universe became filled with sparks of God's divine light and shards of broken containers."
"It's a lovely story," Gabirel said, helping Tziona tuck the ends of a sheet beneath the couch cushions. "But what does it have to do with my mother?"
"The midrash teaches us that until the sparks of God's light are gathered together, the task of creation will not be complete. As jews, this is our solemn duty. We call it Tikkun Olam: Repair of the World."
"I can restore many things, Tziona, but I'm afraid the world is too broad a canvas, with far too much damage."
"So start small."
Thursday, September 29, 2005
What a choice!?!
My first thoughts were toward systems again (which is kind of scary because I may go there just a little too often for a normal person) and the fact that in nature when organisms move toward equilibrium (stability) rather than growth they tend to die.
Then I mentally challenged myself (and yes, I'm aware there's a sarcastic remark to that statement as written but I'm letting it stand) and remembered my response to just a few weeks of chaos and limited amounts of destruction. And I could totally understand why people might simply want peace.
And then I took yet another turn in this thought process and wondered, "But how long will peace last if there's ultimately no justice?"
And I ended this trek with being very glad that I'm not in charge of the world.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Do people who think like that have a way to explain the 3-year-old who died in a small Texas town when a tree fell on his house? or the family of five who used the generator indoors and suffocated? or the busload of the elderly who burned?
Monday, September 26, 2005
The past is always present.
-- We saw Katrina and we feared it would be us. Someone was even foolish enough to suggest that the jammed interstates were "our Superdome." I think that was a bit much, but still recent history probably pried more than one person off the couch.
Organizations have personality.
-- "Let's use our inside voices" must have been the behind the scenes mantra of anyone getting in front of the media's microphones. We were told calmly to remain calm. We were told patiently to have patience. We were told with Ma and Pa Kettle practicality to have good sense. Even the mayor deepened his Ross Perot like cadence to make his "better safe than sorry" sound reasonable.
Every change changes everything.
-- I left a flood zone to head toward a region that eventually flooded, left power to wake up to none.
Solving a problem can make things worse.
-- 23 hourse on an evacuation route that should have taken less than two.
Strategic points of leverage exist.
-- When you're in a Pathfinder and there's a median you can cross, you cross it as well as traversing fields to find bathrooms and country roads to find gas.
Organizations change in order to stay the same.
-- We may have been evacuating, we may have thought we were running for our lives, but we weren't going without Pop Tarts, Cheez Its, and our favorite pillows.
Feedback is everywhere.
-- The red pick up with the pug dog had my young co-rider enthralled. I'm glad she missed the driver shooting the bird to the news helicopter overhead. I'd hate for her to lost all her heroes!
Most of the day was spent getting to know the other folks in the bunk house. Several hundred people were on the campgrounds including evacuees who had already left Katrina behind and were now facing yet another storm. But our shelter included my friend and her daughter, another girlfriend from work and her mother, and an entire family that I really didn't know. Before it was over, we added a minister and her dog who had tried to get her Katrina evacuees to Fort Worth but after 18 hours gave up and brought them to Trinity Pines.
Games, conversation, listening to the radio . . . these are the things that helped pass the time. Finally, we were told the storm had probably missed Houston but that we might catch some of the hurricane force winds around 6 a.m. So we did what any self-respecting refugees would do -- we slept. At 1 a.m. when I woke up, the rain hadn't started. At 2 a.m. when I opened my eyes again, I heard the pitter patter. At 3 a.m. I noticed the power was off. I didn't wake again until 6:30 a.m. and started listening to the news (with my headset . . . I'm not that insensitive of a bunkmate). At 7:30 a.m. I went to watch the wind. We did that for a few hours. Then the other family started packing.
Seems Houston missed it, we were getting some of it, but for the most part, Rita didn't come calling the way we thought. After so many hours on the road, all of us agreed we wanted nothing more than to be home. And though our local officials were pleading with us to stay put, the temptation was too great.
I told my buddy that my vote was for vacating the premises. She wanted a bit more info so she waited and talked to the director of the camp. He offered no argument for staying. So we left.
2 1/2 hours later we were home. A few hours after that, they closed some of the roads out of Trinity because of some problems with flooding.
My wonderful friends had helped me place my belongings on stilts and some of those same folks spent the time I was traveling removing those stilts. By afternoon, I was back in my place with all my stuff back where it belongs. OK, I did redecorate a bit and a few of the dust bunnies were missing but for the most part, it was as if I hadn't left.
We dined well on a home cooked meal at the house that had power and cable (I was without TV until this morning).
I can't believe it was so . . . . NOT. I'm thankful that the losses were not as vast as they had imagined. I pray for those who are facing devestation. And I deplore those who were quoted in the paper today suggesting that the winds changed in order to wipe out more casinos in Louisiana.
I'm caught up on my sleep. I've read one book and I'm halfway through another. And if I'm ever told to evacuate again . . . we'll see.
Wednesday was dedicated to prepping my sure-to-be-flooded apartment. One of the reasons I have such a customized place is that the previous owner of the condo remodeled after Tropical Storm Allison ruined a couple of the rooms. By the time I shut out the lights that evening, I was emotionally prepared to say good-bye to my post-divorce furnishings. I'd done my best. The place looked like Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Seuss had paid me a visit. Every object was off the floor with a boost from whatever concrete or brick items I could find. And ever object was piled high with every other object it could hold. Still, I figured I'd return home to ruin.
I left my place because we knew it would flood. I went to a friend's who had invited me to stay with her and her daughter. Something about that offer (and, thankfully, I had many to choose from) seemed right. I teared up when she made the offer and we both agreed that we liked the idea of making it through this together. At some point, she determined that rather than stay at her place which was near a bayou and could possibly also flood, we should make the 1 1/2 hour trek to an encampment our workplace has connections to. I told her that I was with her come hell or high water.
We didn't get much water but I'm fairly sure I've now seen the upper levels of hell.
We struck out at 12:45 a.m. We figured if the news guys were right, we might need to allow ten hours in the current traffic to make the trip. We figured wrong.
Ten hours in and we weren't out of Houston yet.
23 hours after we started we were safely at our destination.
Read that again just for effect . . . 23 hours.
Along the way, we discovered 740 AM and got word that by 9 a.m. they would be opening contraflow lanes on I45. We hung to that hope of some relief to the bumper to bumper inching we were doing. Then we got word that gas trucks would be stationed along the way. And water would be there as well.
Soon we gave up on any "words" coming from officials. They looked good on a paper plan somewhere I'm sure. But they didn't translate into reality. And after a while other words were really beginning to annoy me. Being told to be "patient" and to have "good sense" wasn't going over well with me. I kept imagining what the command center might feel like with its air conditioning and maybe a few hundred people. Then I'd look around at the thousands before and behind me and want to make my way through the radio waves and to the newsroom where I could share my own thoughts on advice giving from a distance.
While we kept the air low, we did at least have a cool breeze blowing. Others we saw must have had less gas and they opted to sweat it out. As the day progressed and temperatures rose, the sights became less and less comical. Earlier we'd been amused at the variety -- convoys with their country's flag waving from the antenna of every numbered vehicle, whole families with their beloved pets crammed into the cab of a pickup truck, open topped convertibles with young men who had already taken off as much as society would allow.
Soon however we began to notice the variety in our own vehicle. My friend's daughter has kidneys made of steel. She wasn't going to even think about waste elimination. No way. I was uncomfortable but holding out hope that any moment there'd be a break in the traffic flow and I'd soon be able to let it flow. But my friend assures me she pretty much has cheap-paper-towel-for-kidneys and about 12 hours in, she'd had it. So we pulled over (which was amusing in itself given that we weren't really moving) and she ran over to my side of the Passport where her daughter and I held a sheet around our doors and created a "stall" of her very own. The fun was in watching the cars on the feeder road slowly pass by and the realization of what they were seeing slowly materialize in their smiles.
My own restroom experience provided little rest. We'd determined that no gas or relief was really ever coming on the interstate so we took a highway. That resulted in bumper to bumper traffic in only one lane. At the time I was not counting that as my shining moment in making decisions. But we soon saw a high school and a possible restroom near a track field. So we took off over grass and field to get there. Sure enough, it was. It also hadn't been cleaned since it was last used and used it really had been. I tried to flush with my foot and was about to congratulate myself on the running water when I realized the water pressure was in really, really good shape and before I could jump I was a victim of back splash.
At this point, I began to question God's sense of humor.
Seemed every decision brought hope and every turn in the road offered a new view of despair. We'd take the highway and be greeted with a line of traffic at a dead stop. We found a gas station and some food and then met up with the longest and deadliest jam we experienced all day.
But we stayed amused. I found humor in the good people of the small towns who tried to make the drive more bearable. There were teenaged girls handing out water in New Waverly. A waitress carrying water carafes to their tables with her ample bosoms drenched from the walk but a smile on her face. Grandpa in cover alls ostensibly directing traffic at a dead end. Gomer assisting him. At least I think he was official, it was dark and he was holding orange cones. Another dude in flip flops and baggy shorts helping the gas lines avoid chaos. A sheriff complete with badge, cowboy hat, and gun who simply pointed out the fact that no, the two cars you think are ahead of you in line are actually the two we've let in from the other side of the road where at least a 45 minute wait will allow you to fill up.
I discovered my emotional and mental limit was somewhere around 21 days with two catastrophes under my belt and 21 hours on the road. At that point I didn't want to be nice anymore, to follow the rules anymore, to minister to anyone anymore. I banged my head against the seat back and took a walk. Not a problem at that hour given that we weren't really going anywhere at the time.
When we finally arrived at our destination, an elderly Hispanic woman drove up immediatley behind us. Her daughter and our friend was there as well. The elderly woman didn't speak much English but she was quick to tell us her 11 hours on the road was horrible. I thought, "you don't know the half of it, in fact, you didn't even put in half of what we did" but I didn't say anything so crass. Instead, my friend assured her we would show her the way to her daughter. We left the office where we had discovered our room assignments and made our way up the hill in the cars. Only "we" weren't "we" anymore. Seems the elderly woman was no longer following. So with our actual building in sight, we turned around once again to see what had happened.
She'd driven into a ditch.
At that hour and with little to no sleep for two days my Spanish and that much-ballyhooed patience was limited. But I left the car, put my arms around the crying woman, spoke to her in what I words I could muster in her heart language and walked her to our vehicle.
Ants bit me. I was fairly sure, God was well past laughing and had something else in mind but I couldn't figure out what it might be.
Of course, the door was locked on the bunkhouse. I banged. Without hesitation. The daughter arrived. I delivered the mom and asked for the bedroom.
23 hours into this trip, I showered, and laid my head on a pillow with the knowledge that the most recent turn of the storm now had it headed away from Houston and in our direction.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
My 18 relatives were killed during the Khmer Rouge included my father and sisters. Jesus sent his believers to help us. Now, we are here in Texas.
When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it. Jesus helps everybody on earth. Trust the Lord in all your heart and do not depend on your own understanding. He will set you free.
Monday, September 19, 2005
"Would it be a correct assessment to say you have plenty of volunteers tonight?"
"I definitely want to help if there's somewhere that I'm needed, but if not, I've had several weeks of volunteering already and I in no way NEED to feel needed here tonight."
"Go with my blessings!" as she placed her hands on my shoulders and released me.
With that admonition, Jesus called upon his disciples to focus. Now our attention goes back to the poor. The scenes from New Orleans demand us to see what we've largely ignored, imagining that the government programs have somehow taken care of "them."
But "they" let their voices be heard in soundbite after soundbite. And a few hours in front of the television screen underscored that something is definitely wrong with this country.
Former President Clinton called a Global Iniative meeting in New York this weekend to address worldwide poverty. While not on the guest list (I'm sure the invitation is somewhere in postal hell), I would love to hear what those gathered had to say. Because something's got to give.
And I really mean something and not someone . . . Someone has been giving and we've created quite a self-sustaining system. We give via taxes to programs we declared would be weapons in the war on poverty and those very weapons have turned on the poor, insuring that their only insurance of survival is staying within those programs.
We need some kind of centrifugal force to spin those trapped inside out. And perhaps its name was Katrina.
One newsmagazine said we have 37 million Americans living in poverty and then the next quote contradicted the number because experts have trouble defining "poverty". I don't know if I can define but I certainly can illustrate it. Those faces in New Orleans who have now made their way to Houston. Some of whom started immediately to find work. Some of whom are still on shelter cots waiting for the next meal to be served.
When systems are thrust into chaos, we're told that organisms will self-organize. That these times are where our greatest creativity lies. I pray that we take advantage of the chaos we currently find ourselves in. I pray that new systems will be explored. That handouts are replaced with hands outstretched to pull and be pulled from the poverty that clings to both body and soul.
I have no idea what my part in the system changing will be, but enough is enough. The time has come to focus.
When you anchored on stage left and right by two pros, you don't really have to sweat the small stuff. We were. I was smart enough to enlist two veterans and then stuffed the rest of the stage crew list with friends who can lift, tote, clear, and do whatever else they're told.
We had a small snafu during the performance, proving once again that "every change changes everything" -- a set change slowed the performers who slowed the crew in clearing but didn't slow the pianist who actually sped up the next song cue and one of our guys was caught onstage, while the singing started and he dropped a chair . . . yes, during the song.
I cringed. But after that there wasn't much else to do. The show did go on. No one seemed too miffed and in all, it was a great night.
I walked away with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for friends who would donate more than 15 hours of a precious weekend and get nothing more than lukewarm leftovers, cheap champagne, and a big thank you. But these are the caliber of folks I surround myself with. Lawyers, teachers, artists, soon-to-be doctors, chaplains -- all who recognize the precious commodity that is time and give it willingly when the cause is right.
So another year of fundraising has a great start -- the best ever in fact -- and a refuge from the storm that is AIDS has enough to keep it in operation a bit longer. While I pray for the day when it's not needed, I'm glad to be a part of it now.
There were probably several other religious affilations in attendance at the teachers gathering. I know there were some out and out mean people because I encountered them as I walked to and from the conference rooms our little workshop was using totally separate from the teachers. But my different nametag didn't provide obstacle enough for these demanding women. They stopped me in route more than once and more than once with almost physical force to inform me that I had to tell them where some room was. Ignoring my protests that I wasn't with their meeting, they assured me that it was my responsibility to get them to the toddler room. Never one to argue with a toddler's teacher who is shoving her finger in my face, I complied.
After my fifth walk down the jammed corridor picking up trash these "ladies" had tossed aside with little care or concern, I began to wonder about our educational system! I know plenty of caring, compassionate teachers who value property as well as personal growth but this meeting really had an overabundance of apathy going for it.
Then I saw the Muslim women -- heads covered, caring for one another, insuring that all needs were met. Their silk scarves covering their hair and allowing for just enough of a "superwoman" effect as they quickly walked to their next meeting "capes" wafting in the wind they created.
The next day I saw a TV news piece on women in the Middle East voting. They were covered from head to toe, only a small slit for their eyes allowed them the ability to see where to put their folded page, registering their vote. I was struck by the juxtaposition of women with little privilege enjoying the privilege of a vote. And I was struck by the great spectrum of diversity even among a group similar in their beliefs. The teachers wore their covering as adornment. The berkas seemed more like prison.
Monday, September 12, 2005
The survivors yell "help" but the needs are specific -- first they specifically needed shelter, food, clothes. Now they specifically need to get through the system. The worst I heard about today was an 8 hour adventure of trying to get through to the Red Cross 800 number and after hours of standing in line, being told to return tomorrow to the one face-to-face option for funds.
The Red Cross yells "help" but they need folks who can work computers, manage frayed nerves, and defend a system that was never made to function at the capacity it is now.
The churches yell "help" and often get it but they get (in the can-you-believe-this-category) sheets taken straight from a bed because the mattress cover was removed as well as some dog hair and USED toothbrushes. Now, however, even the ones with help are crying out for more because people are just plain getting tired.
Those who have opened their doors to relatives, friends, friends of relatives et al and now are cramming way more folks into small apartments and houses than was ever intended are crying "help" but they could use more than just shelter for those they are sheltering. They are facing big time financial expenditures and to date, there's not a system in place to help out these Good Samaritans.
And volunteers yell "help" because they want to be a source of comfort, yet unless they know how to work a system, make the calls, research the web, they are often disappointed that there is no immediate answer for placing them.
Thankfully, I yelled "help" and somebody did. I'm grateful. I hope more grateful hearts are in the making.
Somebody, not just anybody . . . makes you wonder who's "somebody" you might be, huh?
Saturday, September 10, 2005
- One family called the church that had just set them up in a new apartment with furniture and appliances saying, "We didn't have this much stuff in our home in Louisiana. Please come back and take some of it back so that you can give it to others."
- One shelter started out of the goodness in the hearts of an elderly congregation who knew they had the facility space but didn't know if they could make it work received one check for $10,000 and another for $5,000 from a nearby Jewish businessman and another Jewish woman impressed by what they were doing.
- One person with a two-bedroom apartment had 23 people living there at one time.
- One TV producer, again impressed with Houston's generosity, insured that the church where they were broadcasting from was mentioned more than once in a program that wasn't really supposed to be focusing on the location. "I'm proud of what you're doing here," she said when asked if she had purposely planted the information.
- One once New Orleans resident grieved, opened up her home, then opened up a distribution center in a matter of hours. The very people she needed to make the distribution center work were the very people who had landed on her doorstep the night before.
- One church staff knew that their pastor who wasn't reachable would say yes if asked about feeding hotel-based evacuees so they simply made it happen. In the first few hours of the survivors' arrival, that meant hot meals for hundreds.
One by one . . . it's the one-ness that is making this effort truly a relief.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Rule #2: Most people in charge of providing information are absolutely certain you don’t realize Rule #1.
Rule #3: Everyone is absolutely certain they are right until you want to quote them.
Rule #4: “Tomorrow” is absolutely the certain deadline for getting you the absolute certain answer.
Rule #5: I’m not absolutely certain of anything I’ve said here.
Monday, September 05, 2005
I can't put it all together yet . . . even wonder if just these fragments of thoughts and verbal visuals will offend the casual reader who doesn't know my heart and might wonder what kind of perverted so and so would blog about . . .
- the fact I couldn't see one volunteer's nametag as I trained her to register evacuees on a new database system (which I, of course, had only learned 5 min prior!) but it didn't matter because her name was also tattooed on her lower (much lower) back and her low riding slacks insured I had a good view of it.
- what people will tell you when you simply ask . . . I know I was "official" but I only had on a handwritten nametag and I was getting up close and personal with any number of folks today . . . and they didn't hesitate at all when you got to that all important Medical Condition question.
- the confused look on my face when I was told to wash after every registrant intake . . . I soon learned it was because we were handling drivers licenses and there was a good bed that those licenses had been in the polluted waters
- what an overwhelming feeling of gratitude I had when I saw Muslims, Jews, and Christians -- 10,000 today alone -- come together for training on how to effectively feed the evacuees at the convention center
- how a low voice and saying whatever you're saying with authority automatically calms a weary soul
- how a smile transcends cultures . . . I do believe I may now be engaged to a 70-year-old Vietnamese man I interviewed
- how holding someone's hand for longer than a compulsory shake, a real hand holding, is one of the greatest gifts you can give a woman who is wearing borrowed, broken glasses and trying to insure that her aging mother who is an amputee gets the services she needs
- and the fact that no matter how jaded you are, no matter how many ways you can see what would improve a system filled with glitches . . . you cry when you see a classy lady of the Quarter reflect on her loss, when you hear an 18 year old with an 8 day old baby indicate that she has no medical conditions that need attention . . .and then hear the intake volunteer move into Momma speak in seconds to insure that girl was cared for
This list could go on and on. Touching moving stories are being telecast and written in the major news distribution centers by the minute. But today, I was touched by the moments in time, not the tales of a lifetime.
And tomorrow we begin again.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
The major professional lesson I'm learning is simple:
Accuracy is fleeting.
I've found that whatever I may have believed to be true, from the source, and concrete will no doubt change in five minutes.
While that causes me a degree of frustration, everyone I know involved in this response keeps trudging along at the best pace we can because in the end these minor frustrations are nothing.
We have homes. We have our families within reach or a phone call away. We have food and water and closets of clothes. We have beds. We have jobs.
They have nothing.
So we carry on . . . inaccurate as we may be.
(For those of you who may be wondering more about the feelings, frustrations and stories involved in this, please be patient. I'm exhausted and don't even know what I think, feel, etc. at the moment. All my words have been used today as I worked on our website. More to come, I promise.)