An Open Letter from Canada Jon to the People of Pearlington
Back in November, when I was managing the Recovery Center in Pearlington, there were days when only the sanity of my phone calls to my wife back home enabled me to make it through the long hours. There was always a challenge. I called it "Crisis du Jour" and many of them required all of my skills as a manager and as a psychotherapist to restore order and to re-establish a sense of goodwill and cooperation within the community.
We are at that place again. In November, it was the critical mass of trying to get the last of the residents of your town off the ground and into trailers. Now, as May draws to a close and hurricane season arrives officially on Thursday, it is the critical mass of trying to get everyone back in their homes. Yet this task is akin to trying to build a large subdivision of 300 or 400 homes - but with NO materials, NO skilled help and opposition from large organizations that promise Pearlington things they do not deliver, by changing the rules in mid-stream.
It is the volunteers of Pearlington that take much of the heat for that - and many other things. Yet, I know for a certainty, that the folks of Pearlington see only about 25% of our efforts on their behalf. You do not see the thousands of hours of planning, fundraising, pleading , begging, organizing and praying. You do not hear our million phone calls nor read the vast number of emails that are exchanged trying to get help for your town. You do not see our tears; that perhaps we could have done more, or that perhaps we helped someone who truly had other resources they did not disclose. You do not feel our hearts move in our chests as we say goodbye to you and pray for your safety nor do you know how much we have given up because we know you need help and that you depend on us.
Since I arrived in Pearlington in early September, I have spent probably 20-25 hours a week assisting Pearlington. I semi-retired to enable me to do so. I am not a wealthy man. God called me and I have answered in faith and trust. I am not the only one. People like Jennifer Johnson, Paula Buhr and Laurie Spaschak have cheerfully given up tens of thousands of dollars in income to be at your side. We work tirelessly behind the scenes and I spend hours each week motivating, re-inspiring, supporting and counselling scores of volunteers who must deal with the trauma that coming to Pearlington creates. I spend hours more doing the same thing for many of you. Again, I am not the only one - not by a long shot.
I share this with you not to encourage guilt or shame, but rather to remind you that we are your PARTNERS. We have no central warehouses, nor lines of credit or unlimited resources. We have nothing but what we can create out of thin air on your behalf. There is no glory in our tasks, save the glory of God who channels His will through us. We have left the safety of our own homes and families because you have lost your own. We have proven that we will stand beside you through thick and thin and will try our best to keep our heads when many around us are losing theirs and blaming it on us.
We love you. We are called to love you because you are hurting and because NO ONE does this work unless they can reach inside themselves, as citizens of the world, and find a place of unconditional love from which to operate. We cannot save you, yet we want to - and we punish ourselves in many quiet ways you will never see, when we feel we’ve failed. We celebrate with you, grieve at your losses, for you are our Pearlington family and we come to you knowing we are breaking our own hearts on purpose. We are fiercely protective of you, in words and deeds. We have chased away those who would prey on you and will continue to do it every time. We have stood up for you, made noise on your behalf and talked to reporters and news people all over North America, to tell your story - our story.
Things are hard right now. Please work with us, as best you can. There is never an easy choice we must make and we hold each of you - black, white, young, old, rich or poor in high esteem EQUALLY. We have no agenda, save to rebuild this town. Despite what comes now, we will not give up. We will lick our wounds in private and move on. We will stand beside you and face down another storm, if that is God’s will. And we will stand together against all those who think we’re foolish - or worse - for caring so much what happens in Pearlington.
We are human, same as you. We all make mistakes, poor choices and say things we wish we hadn’t. I call upon ALL of us to consider if any choice we make is something we will be proud of in a year - and then to NOT make it, if the answer is NO. We must call each other to our best place - our highest common denominator, not our lowest.
Some day, the history books will record the miracle that is happening in Pearlington. Some day they will speak about the thousands of average people who helped a small town rebuild itself from a devastating hurricane. I, and others, will also be there to record the indomitable spirit of the residents of Pearlington and how we all worked together to accomplish a miracle, and how we all grew and changed in the process.
Keep the faith.
With love and respect,