My friend Teri's husband owns a catering company that typically caters golf tournaments. But for the last two and a half weeks he has been in New Orleans feeding the coast guard and anyone else in the city which is really no one but military and recovery crews. It is a ghost town. But still Teri's husband rallies to feed about fifteen hundred people a day, even if he ends up cooking on hot plates and other make-shift methods. He sleeps in his car and forgets to brush his teeth and wakes up at three in the morning because he feels he can't do enough. Teri says he's a different man now having been humbled to prostate position by devastation. He hasn't even experienced much of the human element of suffering, but working in the over-turned void left by panicked evacuation is quite enough to traumatize a person even when he doesn’t realize it yet. But it’s obvious to everyone around him.
Teri is the controller of the company where I work. And on a whim, the owner of our company decided to fly to Louisiana and lend a hand to Teri's husband. He flew into Baton Rouge with a backpack and a sleeping bag and took a cab to N.O., about a 70-mile trip. And when he finally arrived, they gave the savvy business man that is my boss a broom and told him to sweep out a parking lot to get ready for the next drove of people hoping to be fed. He didn't care. He was happy to help as are a lot of people especially the locals. Teri's husband and his crew had helped a woman off her roof two weeks ago and she refused to go to the hospital. Instead she wanted to stay and help them with the dishes.
My boss returned from the trip a week ago and at first he said he didn't want to talk about it, but with the tiniest of nudges it poured out with more emotion than I think he wanted to expose. He talked about the trashed, barren streets that looked like a movie set and about the ever-present stench and the historical district that looked relatively unscathed and the stench and the local church folk that have had their sleeves rolled up since the beginning and about the military boys with assault weapons that look like children -- babies -- and he talked about touring the city in the stench in military vehicles as planes sprayed mosquitoes off an eerie swamp and how he witnessed unfathomable miles and miles and miles of houses under water still. But the smallest of details were the most beautifully horrific to me. Like when he looked into the water and as it sludged by he saw a shoe; one pump with a broken heel. He stopped talking then. And we both sat in silence wondering if the shoe fell off in flight or if it was just one of the millions of personal items of a life now washed away.