Dancing with Katrina
For those of us who have danced with Katrina since that August morning in 2005, we have learned many new steps; we have tripped and stumbled, pirouetted and fallen; soared and sunk, wept with pain, wept with joy and treated those "two imposters" - Triumph and Disaster - just the same.
In the calmness of this Pearlington, Mississippi morning though, in the safety and comfort of Susie Sharp's rebuilt home - rebuilt in part again after Gustav - I sip my coffee, massage my trusty laptop and remember who I became in Katrina's wake. I have seen the unfathomable damage a storm can cause and the equally unfathomable response from tens of thousands of volunteers rushing from all over the world to help a proud people stunned by disaster. This day belongs to the people of the Gulf Coast and they will all mark it in their own unfathomable ways. For me, I have wept alone and remembered those who died that day and who have passed on since, friends and strangers alike, and all the volunteers I've met who returned home to embrace their own children and love their families just that much harder for having been spared. Their voices and faces, the feel of their embraces, whirl in my memory like a kaleidoscope.
But, in truth, none of us were spared. Yesterday I had the pleasure and deep honour to be reunited with nurse Paula Buhr and the amazing Tom Dalessandri, two of Pearlington's most constant friends and helpers. Paula was one of the very first volunteers to hit the ground in Pearlington in the wake of the storm, helicoptered in to deal with immediate medical needs. After our meeting, she quietly turned to me and asked me if I had experienced any Post Traumatic Stress symptoms after our early days in Pearlington. Both of us know we have, and still are, and that today may be the day we begin to close that door and heal.
For me, I know I would not have fared very well at all if it hadn't been for the constant love, support and understanding of my wife Marian Rose. By satellite phone in those early days I called her and cried, raged and processed, letting the calm sound of her voice touch me and bathe me with her peace. I'm very sure I could not have done what I did without her. She was my rock, my touchstone, my link to something real and safe. Her contribution and that of so many other partners and families of so many volunteers has never been fully honoured, so I do that here now with simple humility and gratitude.
In the intervening years, Pearlington has greatly changed and very much stayed the same. Many homes have been rebuilt, some are just gone and some still stand in broken testimony to that day. Life marches on and every hurricane season brings trepidation and preparation against the next inevitable storm. This is their home and they stubbornly cling to the bank of the Pearl River as they have for hundreds of years, nestled like a beautiful marble in the very southwestern corner of the great state of Mississippi.
Later this morning a ceremony is planned and it will be my intention, if given the chance, to remind the world that this job was not done by the relative handful of us being honoured today. It was accomplished by tens of thousands, young and old, here and at home, who sacrificed their time, money and occasionally their very lives and peace of mind to come here trying to make a difference. It can only be fully understood by those who have done it here or somewhere else in the world.
Many of us may never know for sure if we did indeed make that difference, but we are all very clear that if we had stayed home, we didn't. So, as much as this day belongs to the Survivors, it also belongs to the Thrivers; the ones who came to make things better and who stood a turn dancing with Katrina. And to those of us who, in our hearts, still are.
No matter where I travel, no matter how many "dimes" my own life turns on, I will remain in my heart forever: