So, I’m back here now, in my cozy home in De Pere, Wisconsin. I didn’t bring a laptop with me on the trip, so I wrote in my journal while in New Orleans, and I’m just now putting the final touches on the blog entries here on my web site. Please also check out Pat Hopkins’ blog. He wrote and published his entries while in New Orleans and he’s got a lot of great photos and insights.
What a trip it was! I learned so much about people and about myself. The toughest part of the trip for me wasn’t the filth or the cockroaches. It was my own tendency to judge. The folks with Catholic Charities warned us on the first day to avoid judging homeowners and people we encounter. And though I’m Christian, I still caught myself feeling judgemental on occasion. “Why can’t they gut this house themselves?” “Why can’t a dozen neighbors all get together and help each other out?” “This would never happen if my house were flooded.”
But there’s just no way I can know what these folks went through. Many lost everything: their home, their jobs, their stores, schools, entertainment, restaurants, cars, etc. Some even lost family members. And thousands had to leave town in order to earn a living or be near loved ones. And while I’m comfortable knowing that if something that drastic happened to me (I’d have dozens of people around me helping out), I don’t know what I’d do if the same tragedy also happened to the very people I’m depending on to help me.
Yes, it was a great week. As you see from my blog entries and photos and videos, we worked very hard and we always enjoyed each other’s company and had a lot of laughs. I met some great folks that I had not known, I got to know some old friends much closer, and we were all in this together.
Pat Hopkins made an interesting observation. He said that he’s never been around such a fun group of people who not only give each other a hard time, but take it well when others give them a hard time. I couldn’t agree more. We razzed each other all the time, and truly enjoyed each other’s company (go Deacon). And while I’m talking about Pat, let me say that we’ve known each other for maybe 6 or 7 years. We met in the business world, our work has cross paths a few times, and of course we see each other in church quite a bit. But as we spent a little time together this week, I was surprised to see how much alike we are. We’ve both got a collection of “Real Men of Genius” commercials (though I’ve got 78 and I think he’s only got 40 or so), he bought the Forrest Gump soundtrack in New Orleans which is probably my favorite movie soundtrack, I just started teaching Religious Education which is something he had done for several years, we’re about the same age, our kids are about the same age (two of our kids are high school sophomores and are in the same math class), and it just seems like he and I have gone through life with the same perspective on a lot of things.
I also enjoyed getting to know Rick and Dawn and Dick. We traveled 2,400 miles together and it was a pleasure sharing my life with them for a week. A little thing I noticed while there was that any time someone took a picture of the three of them, you could see the glow in Dawn’s eyes, as she stood between the two most important men in her life. That must have been great to spend such an important week with people you love so much.
And, I will speak for everyone in the group by thanking Deacon Mike VanderBloomen. He is the genesis of this ministry for our parish. He has spent many hours planning the journey, organizing us volunteers, drafting drivers, drawing up maps, sending e-mails, and generally making sure the entire project went well for all of us. He even put up with many of us leaning on him all week to manage our social lives, something he hadn’t bargained for. We are blessed to have Mike with us in our parish.
So, what now? Well, the folks in the south still need us. Our little project with Catholic Charities is one small portion of the overall rebuilding effort that will take decades. They need us. We need each other. This is a great example of Americans helping Americans, Christians helping those in need. I hope you’ll have a chance to do the same.
Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me. (Matthew 25:40)