By Shala Carlson, Habitat World editor
Every so often — right as I’m waking up, in the split second before I open my eyes — there are still mornings when I think I’m in my apartment in New Orleans. Just a few weekends ago, I spent more than an hour rummaging through my closet, looking for a family photo I was sure I just couldn’t find before remembering that I don’t have it any more. Katrina does.
In the weeks after that massive hurricane hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2005, everyone in my home state of Louisiana talked a lot about the “new normal.” The truth was, of course, that there was nothing normal anymore; there was just the new now.
I think that part of what makes these storms so difficult for those who live in their paths — part of what I felt and definitely part of what I saw in Breezy Point, N.Y. , after Superstorm Sandy last weekend — is that they don’t only happen to you individually. They also happen to everything and everyone around you. There can be solidarity in that, but it’s also very easy to feel — when everything familiar is suddenly and constantly so unfamiliar — as though you are just another one of the things tossed about by the wind and rain and water. As though you and yours are adrift and the rest of the world, with its business as usual, is somewhere out there, very far away.
What’s amazing is how people you don’t even know can help mend that connection. After every storm, I always found it a little bit thrilling to see the power trucks from surrounding states heading south to help get the lights back on. Multiply that times infinity when it’s Habitat volunteers and donors, church groups, AmeriCorps members, all coming together to help try to put back this place that you and your family have loved for so long.
In all of Habitat’s disaster response work — in the Gulf, after the tsunami, in Haiti, now along the East Coast of the United States — there’s the obvious need to repair and build houses alongside affected families. But I believe that the sense of strength and support that runs through all of those efforts is a very important part of why Habitat does what we do. What we can bring is a presence that helps re-root communities in crisis, that helps to settle their spirit — and tells them we will take the next steps with them.
That’s a message I would like Breezy Point and so many more affected communities to hear today. Please help us send it.