My husband and I were married 4 years ago and much like our newly cast wedding vows, we were full of optimism and hope, and certain that the future was rife. When the end of August came that summer, we eased a horse trailer down the driveway and began marching all of our worldly possessions past the dying Black Walnut in our yard into the horse stalls where everything we owned sat looking rather humble, waiting for the rumble of an engine marking entry into our new lives. That was August 29, 2005 and far below us, in my newly anointed husband’s home state of Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina was revving an engine of her own, preparing to indelibly change the not only the landscape, but the very soul of the south.
As we were driving up the highway to our new home, the put on a terrific show easing into the horizon in the comforting hues of a sailor’s preferred sky, and I was overcome with a powerful feeling of contentment and joy. It wasn’t until we arrived and we began to see the breadth of the damage in Louisiana and Mississippi that we realized that everything was far from ok. We spent the following days listening to people looking for lost relatives, watching the water begin to rise and knowing there would be a day before Katrina, and the rest of life after.
We couldn’t get in touch with our family and so we waited and joined the millions of thoughts and prayers cascading down on the streets of Evangeline. It wasn’t until a couple of days later though, when we threw open the back gates of that horse trailer and looked at the security of our life neatly packaged in one safe, dry spot that I began to really understand what had transpired inside of me. Our youthful abundance was in direct contrast to the inconceivable loss, which was occurring on the southern coastline, and through teary eyes I felt my first brush with true empathy. I believe in the human ability to feel, to walk in another’s shoes, to feel of another what words will only do a watery injustice for. I believe that the power of empathy, the lumps that sat in our throats as we watched people boating past third story windows and cried with teary strangers desperate to find their children, is something that defies logic or willpower, education or stigma, social standings, creed or color. In the weeks following Katrina, a part of each of us was homeless, terrified, hungry and desperate, and it was through empathetic compassion that we were able, as a nation of civilians, to spring to action and let our feelings motivate our minds. In a world where the individual is celebrated, sometimes the greatest leap of faith, the sternest of calls to action, and the most profound demonstrations of love are born, not from our own experience, but from the deep, surprising and unexpected sensation of resonating with another’s. This I believe.
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