I heard the an account of a Hurricane Katrina survivor named Joe today. Our volunteer group comprised of 16 or so Googlers are helping to rebuild his home, and he graciously shared his personal account with us over lunch - of how quickly the water rose, of the smart decisions vs. the mistakes, of his determination to save his two dogs, and of the moment he realized he was homeless. What I found remarkable about his story was his positivity. And what struck me about him and his family was their generosity, considering they have so little left to give.
At one point, Joe recounted of how he had suffered a massive blow to the head via tree trunk. As he was up on his roof, half of his teeth knocked out by the blow, he began to weep. For the first time since the water started rising, he just cried and cried. And his pet beagle, upon seeing this, sprang into action. She would doggy paddle away and then return with animals in her mouth. She had been a hunting dog in a past life, pre-flooding, bursting levees, and oil spills, and so her hunting skills just kind of kicked in. First came a pigeon. Followed by a mouse. And then a rat.
At this, I grimaced. I didn't mean to react, at least not visibly, but I suppose it was instinctual. I had just flown in from New York, where as legend has it, rats can crawl up shower pipes, becoming lodged there. Or at least according to Augusten Burroughs. And I couldn't imagine anything more horrifying.
It was then that Joe looked directly at me, as he continued his story. He explained that the dog had been trying to save his life by bringing him food, and I was instantly humbled. Whereas I had been dreading rats, others were fighting for survival. There were no luxuries. It's funny what our mentality chooses to dwell upon, but how quickly our perspectives change. Survival had always been a given for me.
And upon closer glance, I noticed that Joe was toothless; I had simply relegated his manner of speech to his Southern drawl. Here before me, sat a toothless, humble man, sitting in a washed out home with his FEMA trailer out front, expressing gratitude. Genuine gratefulness for a group of volunteers that had come down to help rebuild his father's house for a week, when really, we were the ones walking away with lessons worth our weight in gold.