Lessons Learned in Tragedy

Stephanie - New Orleans, Louisiana
Entered on May 16, 2006

I believe that the things that I have experienced in the last several months were meant to be a journey of learning new things. I was a victim of Hurricane Katrina and in every hardship that I have endured, I have learned a lesson.

First, the hardest, most painful lesson was losing my 80 year-old father, who remained at home. I learned to tell loved ones that you love them everyday, hug them as if it may be your last. Excuse the small stuff, life is too short.

I’ve learned that even though I had a job, I was homeless. I wandered not knowing where to go next or what to do. I was homeless and for once in my life, I was just like the person on the street who wanders aimlessly with bags and all earthly possessions in a grocery basket. Respect him because it could be you one day.

I stood in line for hot food because the stores were not opened in the area. The man in front of me smelled like he had not had a bath in a month. I was standing in line behind him, the same line. I have a job, but I was hungry and stood in a soup line. I learned to do things like the old days. I stood in line for ice, because there was no electricity. Cell phones did not work and water was contaminated. After evacuating, I washed my two sets of clothing in the bathtub, in a dark hotel room, because the lights went out. I learned to appreciate modern conveniences.

I threw out all of my personal possessions after the flood. I learned not to get too attached to personal possessions because they are no longer personal when they are on the curb in a wet pile. They are only things. I learned that you could make with very little. “Who needs a TV, DVD player and that comfortable chair?” When you are exhausted and hungry, some cold food and the floor is just fine. I learned that you shouldn’t take anything for granted.

Many people knew that I was always independent all my life. I had taken care of myself and those entrusted to my care the best I could. Now, I was needy. I was confused, and grieving for my father, my home, my car and all of my memories. I believe that everyone needs help sometime in their lives. I learned to be grateful for all of the people who guided me when I was completely lost: those who held my hand and prayed, who cried with me and shared a little bit of my pain. My lessons in tragedy could be turned into strength.

It’s not over yet, not by a long run. If I was asked at 10 a.m., “What do we do now,” I would answer, “Ask me at 11 a.m.” I am taking it one hour at a time. I joked with my kids saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

I believe that bullets could bounce off of me now, like superman.