In crises, no other country in the world responds as positively as the United States. Blunders of this catastrophe aside, the citizens of this great nation ban together in both micro- and macrocosms. It is evident in the swift response and outreach of individual citizens and organized groups that is the spirit of love and caring which permeates the very fabric of Americana. Katrina is evidence.
On this localized level I introduce you to the dichotomy of one hotel chain against the other. Pastor Mel Estes, leader of a local congregation here in Sulphur– http://www.victoryworshipcenter.com/ —has adopted the Holiday Inn Express in Sulphur and the entire congregation is daily feeding everyone in the hotel with a fabulous dinner, dessert and refreshment and they have been doing so for the past week with a commitment to continue until all New Orleanians have checked out. Besides the meal, they insist on having each one of us fill out a Family Needs Assessment form just in case we are too bashful to ask for more help. With it, they hope to clothe, house, secure employment and provide any medical needs. Folks, this is Red Cross Jr. in operation with a local church group. Heaven—or something extremely close—is a place on earth figuratively speaking.
Upon my arrival at this new hotel, I was introduced to an elderly black gentleman who insists on being called Gerald—not mister—just Gerald. A few days ago he was plucked off his roof in the Kenilworth area of East New Orleans after two days of braving the flood waters by himself. He is a very pleasant man with almost a “nutty professor” hair style but well-kept and very colorful in conversation about the old days in New Orleans. He spent most of his adult life not far from my grandparents who lived in Gentilly also during my childhood. He is a retired HUD worker and a veteran of the pre-Vietnam campaign who did serve in the region before full-scale operations started. It wasn’t until a days later when speaking with him again that I figured out where I came up with the source of my “nutty professor” impression. Since so many of our intelligentsia are sometimes considered aloof or eccentric by nature, something in my mind clicked as to why I saw him in that way. Apart from his engaging conversational style and the depth of his insights and analyses, staring at his visage that additional day, I recognized why. At closer observation I was moved to ask him a simple but appropriate question: “Has anybody ever told you you resemble Albert Einstein?”
“No. You’re the first. But I have been told Mark Twain before,” he replied.
Good company to be in, Gerald! And if you wrote a book, I might begin to believe in reincarnation.
For four hours while waiting for our new room to be ready in the hotel lobby, we chatted non-stop about old Gentilly, the goose that chased me and grandma laying the bird to waste with her purse while passing the Gentilly duck pond, his experiences with the local merchants in the area I remembered but have been displaced by corporations like Rite Aid and McDonalds, the waste of government resources in agencies like HUD, the ultimate meaning of life; you name it we discussed it.
During our conversation, another Caucasian gentleman from the church mentioned above approached Gerald and asked if he had gotten in touch with the V.A. hospital in Lafayette. Gerald mentioned the busy phone lines and waiting on hold for minutes with no response. The gentleman said he got in touch with the V.A. in Beaumont Texas and had made an appointment for Gerald for tomorrow morning and that he would pick him up in the lobby at 8 a.m. Without missing a beat, Gerald proceeded to make a deal with him that the only way he would go was if he (Gerald) would be allowed to fill his gas tank when they returned. The gentleman shook his head in agreement and winked in my direction as if to say “Okay. I lied to him. He ain’t gonna pay for nothing.”
If you are familiar with Mike Myer’s “verklempt”—or however you spell it–I’m sure Shanna will correct me—I am right now. I didn’t mention race above for any other reason than to highlight the fact that especially in these trying times the politics and the crap we collectively as a nation think is the answer to the ultimate questions of life are just that–a bunch of crap. If that term offends, get over it. There is no other sufficient term to define with precise characteristics what I mean. Color is only skin deep and we all know where the beauty ultimately resides.
I don’t want to preach but this is what I would compare to the closest thing as heaven on earth, not to wax denominationally, but to speak to “original intent” no matter Christian, Jew, Atheist, Muslim, whatever. And as proud as I am to be associated with Gulf Games (please visit http://sacredchao.2mydns.com/gulfgames/about_gg.php for a better understanding of “Gulf Games”) and the quality of people who are members, I still see glimmers of hope for the world especially in times when cooperation is paramount to survival, when barriers of race, creed, class, et. al., are tossed to the hurricane winds of Mother Nature and we all coalesce into a proper functioning society. All is not perfect in this “heaven” I speak of but with understanding and tolerance those of us who actively and willing refuse to acknowledge random boundaries drawn by misinformed individuals, this world will continue to be chaotic but with momentary glimmers of human kindness searing through the darkest clouds of despair. And I just can’t wait until the sky is bright blue without a cloud in sight.