I had somebody tell me last week that I neglected to say where I am and what I’m doing here. Opps. While I was at the PDA camp in Pearlington, Mississippi with my home church a couple of weeks ago one of the head honchos asked me if I could possibly stay on the coast to help out at one of the other camps in Louisiana. They were getting new managers and wanted me to be at hand in case they needed anything. Easy duty. So Beaven went on home with the church and left me. I stayed and have been living off of a week’s worth of clothing and not much more than my laptop in the way of creature comforts. However, mid-week, (after voting) Beaven came back to spend the rest of the month with me here. I think they’re breaking us in for service in Texas whenever they open the camps there. We’ve ended up making quite a cozy home for ourselves. He even brought the cat. While I train, Beaven is spending his time working on heaters. Heaters are becoming more and more important around here as winter approaches. I already had to spend one night shivering in my sleeping bag and the volunteers have had a couple of cold nights. Since Beaven arrived the heaters haven’t missed a beat. Our current plan is to go back home this weekend.
So here we are. Our camp is on the grounds of the First Union Presbyterian Church of Luling, Louisiana. They have a beautiful campus with lots of old oaks and healthy grass. PDA has put up tents and an outdoor kitchen and dining tent. But our office is inside, thank you, Jesus. It’s very modern with a fax, copier and laptop computer. Very much like any office you would find anywhere.
But I was sitting here just now and noticed a corner where we have three things you would never find in any office, especially stacked together up against the wall with each other.
The cordless drill chargers are ordinary enough. We have another one just like it on my desk. Every single PDA camp has them all over the place. We found one in the kitchen last night. Not many people keep their cordless drill chargers in their kitchen. But our guys plug them in all over the camp. It’s not at all unusual to find construction equipment in odd places like the showers.
But it was the box you see under the charger that caught me eye and prompted me to look inside.
It was a box of keepsakes from one of the houses, or maybe a collection of things found in many different houses. All waterlogged from Katrina. It was mostly photos, glued together by storm muck then dried to a solid set of almost-illegible pictures. There were a couple of letters with a New Orleans address. This storm gathered up peoples’ possessions and stirred in a massive amount of wet muck then receeded, leaving everything ruined. Very often the storm waters picked up boxes like this one and carried them miles away. I heard from one man whose military records were found in their waterproof plastic box two miles from his house. He was lucky. Somebody found him. This old wooden box looks very much like an antique whose owner is long gone. I wonder if he has anyone left who cares about these waterlogged photos?
Then, to the left of the box with the charger on top of it is a memorial cross with pictures of Rich Cozzone on it. Rich was the Volunteer Village Coordinator who died in a one-car crash one evening last December. His death was a huge shock but our loss was deep and to see the memorial touched my heart. It’s a custom here to place one of these by the side of the road at the site of the accident. I’m not sure where this has been. It may have been here on the church grounds. I can tell it has spent time staked in the ground. It has a picture of Rich and a scripture.
Somehow, seeing these three things together against the wall illustrates what we are doing here: Practical and no-nonsense construction. Touching people’s lives in a very intimate way. And at a personal cost.
The cost is rarely more physical than a mashed finger. More often, it’s emotional. We have seen the ferocious strength of the weather. We’ve seen the hopelessness of trying to rebuild without resources. It's being thanked over and over again for something as simple as being here. We’ve seen the emptiness of living outside your own house and the pressure of living in a FEMA trailer. The volunteers who work for PDA see more than they expected and more than they wanted.
It’s a surreal life. But I’d rather live this way in an office where you can recharge your drill battery on your desk than the fanciest office in a skyscraper.
Late breaking and astonishing news:
I found the owner of the box!! Just as a lark I Googled the name I saw on the envelopes along with the word “New Orleans.” The person I found works for Loyola University. It took me only one more Google to get his phone number. I asked if he was a “junior.” He said he was and I said I thought I’d found some of his father’s stuff. I named the street on the envelopes and he gave me the street address.
I told him he might be disappointed because the photos are almost indistinguishable. He said he knew all about that. He had lost all of his things in another house. We didn’t talk much but I hope to see him when he comes to pick up his box.
It’s these small victories that keep us going sometimes. You can be sure I'll report back if I get to meet the guy the box belongs to.