Live from Pearlington - Nov. 24, 2006
The deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey was expertly prepared by Randy Turpin and all the traditional trimmings - Mississippi-style - were there. Susie Sharp picked me up at the Gulfport-Biloxi Airport and by the end of the afternoon I was stuffed and trimmed like a holiday goose. Fresh rolls, sweet potatoes, giblet gravy, corn casserole adorned the table and Laurie Spaschak, from the Recovery Center, joined us for dinner with her Poor Man's Pie.
It was a welcome fit for a king and it's good to be back in Pearlington.
We have much here for which to give thanks. Some construction is going on to finally get these people back in their homes, but as Tom Dalessandri has pointed out, only about 35% of the town is rebuilt.
Wednesday night, as I finished my work and prepared for the shuttle to the airport, I had a conversation with a new friend, Brad. He had watched Comic Relief last Friday night and was shocked to see that so much remained to be done here. As I flew over New Orleans and Pearlington on the shuttle from Houston, I saw the big picture of the vulnerability of this region and just how precious a jewel is the Gulf Coast of America.
As the plane circled and prepared to land, the blue-tarped roofs, the FEMA trailers and the continuing mess of broken homes and shattered lives became startlingly apparent. There is so much more to be done and it's heart breaking.
It will be my mission and that of the Coalition of Disaster Relief Agencies in Pearlington (C.O.D.R.A.) to begin a New Blitz. There is still an enormous need for volunteers here and we need more people to come and help. The world has moved on, but not so the many yet-homeless folks of Pearlington, Mississippi. I will find a way to advise the world that our responsibilities - our Ability to Respond - has not yet been fully met in this battered southern town.
As Rev. Rawls and his crew at the First Southern Baptist Church reach out to feed the volunteers Thanksgiving turkey; as folks around town invite smaller groups of out-of-towners into their humble homes and trailers to break bread and to share what they have, I ask us all to look into our hearts. Can we tap the creative spirit that is our birthright from God and find new ways to inspire others to come and help?
I call all the members of C.O.D.R.A. to our greatest place of Unity and Common Purpose. We know that this tragedy didn't just happen to ALL these people, it happened to EACH of these people. We feel their frustration and occasional hopelessness. As I share their stories in the next two weeks, let the world remember why we came here in the first place. One year ago I was here, managing the Recovery Center and sleeping on the ground, like they were. I was freezing at night and foraging for a decent meal by day, like they were. I was coughing and sweating and praying for a miracle - like they were.
Many other volunteers were here in the trenches too. Many have gone the distance and I am so proud to be your colleague. You never gave up, never stopped caring, never stopped sacrificing to do what had to be done. Your effort is etched in the collective memory of the people of Pearlington.
Now it's time to finish what we set out to do. Be eloquent in your calls for help. Write, speak, beg, plead and bully to get what these people need. They are counting on us and we must stay the course with renewed vigor and faith.
Let us all join hands in unity and unconditional love. Let's rise above our human foibles and fears and concentrate on the task. Those groups who have not yet joined C.O.D.R.A. are invited to do so and to fully be a part of this remarkable miracle. Let us redouble our efforts and not allow the destruction of Hurricane Katrina - the most devastating natural disaster of our generation - to slip from the North American consciousness. We cannot let the world go back to sleep.
A year from now, let us give thanks on this holiday as all the good folks of Pearlington sit down at their own tables, in their own homes and do the ritual things that most of the world takes for granted.
Only then, will we be truly finished what we started.
With gratitude on Thanksgiving,
Old Friend: I'm sorry if I've disappointed you and you find me no longer worthy of our friendship. I did what I could and I will continue to do so. I love you and believe in you and that will never change. My door - and my heart - is ever open.