Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Disaster Fatigue

This has been a tough week. I’ve been rounding the Learning Curve at about 100 miles an hour. I haven’t crashed yet but it’s still too early to say I won’t and the speed is picking up.

It turns out you can get something called "Disaster Fatigue". They told us all about it in orientation but I figured: (1) that I'm a pretty healthy old broad; I’m fairly centered and a product of some very expensive therapy so I should be fine and (2) that it's a whole two years after the storm and most of the debris is cleared away with houses going up everywhere so where is the disaster?

Well, in the course of my job assessing the work sites and talking to the homeowners I counted up that in one two day period I spent 20 hours listening to people talk about what their lives have been like in these past two years. Yeah, fatigue. Duh.

My title is Worksite Manager which means I supervise the volunteers working on the houses. The hardest part of the job isn’t in knowing what the electrical codes are in the town-- no, that’s easy. I can get answers to those questions in five minutes from a local expert I keep on retainer in exchange for a 12 pack of Dr. Pepper. The hardest part of the job is keeping the volunteers busy. I sent 20 people to five houses yesterday and they just chewed up the work and came to me looking for more. That's when I started feeling a bit overwhelmed. I went scrambling around looking for more work. I’ve got 55 people coming next week and I can’t send them out to mow lawns. I’ve got to find rebuilding work for them. The following week we have 75 people coming. Now I know what a stand up comedian feels like standing in front of the mike with a bright spotlight and no laughs.

Pearlington is just CRAMMED with the most unique characters I've ever met. And with a southern accent, to boot. I couldn't begin to write about them all. My fingers would fall off. They could make a movie out of just this town.

OK, here's maybe one way to explain these people without typing my own fingers off. I was in one woman's home and in her bedroom (they always want to take you through their house and show it to you) was this picture. It was a picture of her, sure enough. When I asked about it she told me her son is a professional photographer in New York and has a blog with Pearlington stories. I realized I read this blog a couple of months ago never dreaming I would someday end up in this woman’s bedroom seeing the original photo. It's probably the best blog to describe this town. So go read it. The picture is in the blog in the photo gallery section. It's the one called "Mom crying" and she said it was the moment she realized she wasn't going to be able to put her life back together by herself.

There is no way I can tell all the stories I heard today. Not enuf time. Read the blog:

OperationEden.blogspot.com

Read it in reverse, that is, go to the end with the earliest dated stories from August of ’05. It will be in the archives

We had a cold spell last week when the temperature went to the mid-twenties during the night. One night I was just about to go to bed and as I laid my head on the pillow it occurred to me that I wasn't sure if I had enough propane in my tank to heat the trailer for a third night of 20 degree cold but I was too tired to get up and check. Fortunately, the heat lasted one more night.

But the frigid weather presented some interesting scenarios. On the third morning of 20 degree nights, I decided I was absolutely going to have to take a shower, no matter how cold it was. So I bundled myself up and walked over to the shower tent. I knew I would have hot water once I got going but just taking off your clothes in that cold was hard. Then, as I settled into the shower stall with the hot water running over me, my feet were still just freezing. I noticed the floor was a little slick and moved my foot around to feel what was so slippery. It dawned on me that I was standing on ice. It almost immediately melted, of course, but that's an experience I'll bet not many people have had—taking a hot shower while standing on ice.

Some of the tough times were emotional and I finally realized I was just plain old homesick. You don’t think adults get homesick but eventually everybody does, especially when they have a great life waiting for them back home like I do. I touched base with a couple of people I knew could help me and it helped a lot. That, plus a long over-due haircut, turned the week around.

When I realized I needed a haircut I remembered a lady whose house I worked on last February. I helped build her stairs and she had pointed out her shop out behind her house. When I stopped by to make an appointment she remembered me. After the haircut and some great conversation, as I was preparing to leave and opened my wallet, she stopped me short and was adamant: "No. No money. I get to decide who pays me and who doesn’t. And you won't ever pay me in this town. You people have already done so much....etc, etc" You get the picture. So we decided I could pay her in hugs.

Later, as it settled on me, I found myself touched in a way that almost brought me to tears. When I was tired and down she lifted me up with such a simple and loving gesture. I’m sure it came very natural to her but she had no idea the effect it had on me.

But the absolutely crowning touch came from my dear friend, Kat, who sends out the church calendar every month. I was tired and frustrated and, yes, a little scared --so I thought I'd pull up the church newsletter and see if it would make me feel better. When I tried to pull it up on my computer whatever the Adobe software wanted from me in exchange for the church calendar obviously wasn't making it happy. I guess it was trying to tell me in its quaint computer language what the problem was but of course I had no idea what was wrong, nor did I have the energy to care. I received the following message in the middle of my screen, nothing more:

"There are too many arguments."

I am still laughing.

Thank you, Adobe for a good laugh even though I’m sure you take your computer language very seriously. Thank you, God, for the release a good laugh provides. Thank you, dear friends who have been praying for me. Thank you Pearlington, Mississippi for a simple place in a complicated world where Dr Pepper and hugs are a recognized form of currency.

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