In Baton Rouge after the historic flooding of August 12-14, a new phase of the disaster has begun: the waiting. Waiting for gutted houses to dry. Waiting for FEMA and insurance companies to make settlements. Waiting for contractors to provide an estimate of the cost of renovation. Waiting to see if a mobile home is available. Waiting for the "Shelter at Home" program to reply. All this waiting is taking place as folks go back to work, children return to school, and life tries to go back to normal when nothing is really normal. We are calling this the "new normal."
In the midst of all this waiting, people are amazingly resilient and hopeful. At Immaculate Conception Church, we have had some of the most prayerful and heart-felt liturgies as people poured out their hearts and souls in prayer and song. No question about it, the power of community to lift up, console, and strengthen has been obvious. After Mass one Sunday, flood survivors went to the parish activity center to stock up on cleaning supplies, clothes and toiletries that had been donated by Jesuit Dallas Prep and the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans. Parishioners cooked up 300 jambalaya dinners to be distributed. The atmosphere was electric with folks trading stories of how they got out of their flooded neighborhoods and exchanging tips of how to get the backbreaking work of gutting a house done.
The following week, survivors gathered again to hear two mental health care professionals from the parish talk about recognizing the signs of the effect of trauma and developing strategies for dealing with the long road to recovery. A constant refrain has been: "What we lost were just material things. We have our lives. You can't replace a life!" Many of the survivors expressed an optimism for the future and even welcomed embarking on upon a simpler life style. As one woman said, "As I threw so much away, I said to my husband, we are not going to fill our house up with all that junk again! I got a microwave, a hot plate, and a rice cooker. What else do I need!"
Baton Rouge and surrounding cities and towns have been blessed with the overwhelming generosity of people providing financial donations, supplies, food, and volunteer help. During this second phase, financial contributions and gift cards are always welcome and needed. The kinds of supplies needed now are sheets, comforters, pillows, towels, kitchen utensils as families look to settle into temporary housing.
Everybody wants to go home. One little boy said it perfectly. With three families camping out at one house, he said to his mother, "I love my big family, all my cousins, and pawpaw and maw-maw, but I want to go home!" That is what everybody is doing: trying to get home.
(Father Tom Clark, SJ, is the pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, a Jesuit parish in Baton Rouge. More than 100 of his parishioners have lost their homes in the historic flooding. Visit their website for updates or to make a financial contribution. To send a gift card, message or supplies, the parish address is 1565 Curtis Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70807.)
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