Tuesday, March 06, 2007

broken pieces

Broken heart one more time
Pick yourself up, why even cry
Broken pieces in your hands
Wonder how you'll make it whole
Creator only You take brokenness
And create it into beauty once again
--"Porcelain Heart" by Barlow Girl

I spent two days in New Orleans working with Camp Restore, a church that is working with community members to help restore homes and yards and neighborhoods. People come from all over the United States to stay at the Prince of Peace church in St. Bernard Parish, which they have renovated into a camp for the “mission workers.” There are bunk beds and showers and a mess hall.

Our group of 51 women and 7 or so men from Christ the King Lutheran church in Kingwood arrived Thursday night, and worked all Friday and Saturday. We worked in teams of seven to ten or so, doing different tasks – some painting, some yard cleanup, cleaning up streets and medians and picking up garbage.

The first day, I worked along Bundy Street right across from the church. A tangled growth of weeds and grass had overgrown the neighborhood entryway and trash and limbs that had not been cleaned since Katrina were scattered on the ground. The homes along the road were mostly abandoned, and their lawns had grown up, some to several feet high. The city or county had just started fining homeowners $100 a day if they don’t maintain their lawns… even if they are not there to keep it up! All of the homes were gutted. We cleaned up this area, replanted flowers on the neighborhood sign, and made it look like a place that was alive again.

What struck me this first day was finding -- underneath all the overgrown grass and roots -- “Meals Ready to Eat” that had been airdropped to the residents during Katrina. It reminded me of the human side of the tragedy – the reality of these people stuck in their homes with no food, scared, helpless, having lost everything they own, and in some cases dying.

The second day I went with another group to Orleans Parish and some of the really bad neighborhoods near where the levee broke.

We cleaned up the yards of two homes and two empty lots where the houses had been razed. One home was in a really bad area, and it was truly astounding the difference we made in the way the yard looked!

I liked picking up the garbage, the large pieces and the small pieces. This is what I found amidst the rubble in people’s yards:

A checker
A marble
Two puzzle pieces
A plastic hair curler
Mardi gras beads
Lots and lots of broken glass
Pieces of people’s homes – roofing, siding, tile…

I have been very reflective during the trip, and tonight and on my 6-mile run this evening I thought about how these pieces of people’s lives were ripped and torn and literally thrown all over the place. Making the neighborhoods and yards look clean and neat brought hope to people. Many people honked when they drove by and gave the thumbs up, and thanked us for caring about their city and their lives. Tonight as I ran, I realized that why I was so drawn to the broken glass and picking up the broken pieces of people’s lives - the garbage - was that was what divorce does. It takes a family and it tears it and rips it and throws the pieces all over the place. My life and my family was torn apart, both my own when I was a child and my family now.

It’s been four years, and I’m still recovering from the pain – pain I caused myself, pain I caused Matt, and my children, and pain that I myself endured through various events. I went through the most difficult challenge of my adult life during those years at the beginning. It was a tragedy, and I needed someone to just wrap their arms around me, and to reach out to me and let me know I was loved and forgiven. No one did (at the church), except – of all people – my ex-husband.

Now years later I can honestly say I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life, and yet I will always carry a sadness that this happened in my life. I am rebuilding my life, like the people in New Orleans have to rebuild theirs. There is rebirth in tragedy, and the pieces of broken glass and shattered homes can form something beautiful in time and truly give strength to the broken, if you are open to rebuilding and strengthening and taking wisdom from the pain.

Coming home tonight in the van, I just thought how much I wished I could have a hug. I wished we women would have hugged goodbye, or that we had hugged at the retreat. I came home to an empty house, and cried a little bit about the sadness and joy and craziness of life. Unlike many women I tend to like alone time and rarely feel lonely. But I will say there are times like these when I could really just use a hug. And just to know that someone cares enough to go out of their way to say so.

My full New Orleans photo gallery is online at http://wendeeholtcamp.com/NOLA/


Wendee said...


Anonymous said...

Hugs anytime for you!

Miranda said...

Hearing about NOLA shakes me up all over again. Now they have to strengthen those levees but good, or all your work might be threatened again.

As you describe, the emotional effects of the storm and aftermath reverberate far beyond those it immediately impacted. Dorothy Day had some great line about how when the most unfortunate are hurting, the whole of humanity hurts too, and when you heal them you heal all.

Sus said...

What a cool thing you did gal!