Why do I write? I write to make sense of things. I write to put things into perspective. I write about things that I don't understand and don't agree with or agree strongly with. I write to try to understand the injustices of our world, the pain, the unfairness, the inequality, the ridiculousness and the mind boggling. I write because I have to. I can't not write; my obsessive-compulsive mind won't let me.
Last week, metro Atlanta was underwater. It was as if the clouds sucked up all the water out of the ocean and then came over to dump it all over our suburbs. Suburbs near the school where I teach were particularly hit hard. Many of my students and their families suffered unbelievable loss. Entire homes were submerged. Everything that these families had worked for was gone. Just like that. The water came up within hours to cover two story homes save for the attics. An entire school was underwater. A gas station, street signs and cars.
On Tuesday, we got a little bit of sunshine and floodwaters receded enough for residents to return to their homes to survey the damage. Many of my students were absent from school because they were either in shelters, at relatives' homes across town or were helping their families dig belongings out of the soggy drywall and insulation that was the remainder of their home.
When I worked at a local tv station, there was an unsaid understanding that if you got too close to your stories that you would come undone. So, reporters, photographers and producers have an amazing way of separating themselves from the story. It's a survival technique. It's not that they don't care, it's just the opposite. People in news often care deeply and that's why they chose that field for their life's work. If you let every story you reported get to you, you would be a quivering, drooling skeleton, rocking back and forth in the corner of a room populated by people in white coats.
So, even though this crisis happened to the young men and women I teach and love everyday, I was still able to not let it get to me. I went into kind of a triage mode. What can I do to help? What do my students need? Be the strong one. I teach my broadcasting students to not be part of the story. This time they really were part of the story. Destroyed homes were located less than a mile from my classroom, but I didn't see them other than on the news and I was able to keep it somewhat unreal. Until Wednesday.
On my way home from work, I pulled up behind a pickup truck filled with a mud-crusted stove, kitchen cabinets, vacuum cleaner, and other things that I only recognized as being things you find in a well-loved, functional home. It took my breath away. It became real to me and hit me in the stomach like a fist. The basic necessities of modern life were rendered useless and broken. All those things that we take for granted, such as a broom or a coffee cup or our refrigerators were going to have to be replaced by many families. At unbelievable cost and hardship.
They will recover. Slowly, those basics of the home will be replaced. Those unreplaceable items like photos, cards, diaries, home movies, etc. will only be stored in their minds, but they will heal. Sometimes when I'm clearing clutter in my home or cleaning off the kitchen table, I fantasize about what I would do if a flood or fire or tornado took it all away. It would certainly make cleaning the house easier, I think...or would it? Of course I would never want my most precious memories destroyed, but the event of the last week has certainly put some perspective on what we often think of as important. I'm not going to worry about having so much stuff that doesn't mean anything to me. The more we have, the more we have to lose. I'm going to clear out my closets and cabinets and give things that I don't use anymore to those who can use them. I just have to be sure to keep all my writing.
Causes Lisa Heeren Supports
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary