I sat on a porch and ate a green apple today. I can't speak to what kind of apple it was - I wish I was better versed in my apple varieties - but let's just go with Granny Smith, as I imagine that to be green. And as I sat gazing at the apple in my hand, I found that I was satisfied. In that moment, I had no material need. I wasn't obsessing over the hazy cloud surrounding my 5 or 10 year plan.
Sometimes, it's that simple. Just yesterday, I sharpened a pencil using only a razor. Hacking away until the wood segued way into lead, I was satisfied. Our world is oversaturated with an abundance of material wealth and desire for significance and success. And those are all amazing privileges, but sometimes, it can also be distracting in the hunger for more. And more. And more and more.
Life out here in Louisiana is so simple. Simple, yet complex. Family members grow up in homes right down the block from one other. People don't leave New Orleans, at least they didn't used to. So when Katrina hit, many victims didn't have other family members in other states to turn to or stay with. Louisiana is all they know.
Our days as volunteers working with the St. Bernard Project consist of installing insulation and drywalling. I always thought that if I were in charge of physically building civilizations, we would still be stuck in the Neanderthal stage. Now, with my adeptness with the power tools (and apparently, a razor), we just might make it to Cro-Magnon societies after all.
The communities are not what I expected. Rows of brick homes line the blocks of the St. Bernard Parish. You see ramshackle houses surrounded by piles of rubble right alongside remodeled homes with Halloween decorations on the lawn. Halloween seems to have come early this year. Initially, I was confused by the income levels of the homeowners. These homes are relatively large by California standards - I had imagined poverty and desolation to resemble more East LA or Compton, and these brick homes, although demolished, looked like they had once been rather nice. But I suppose anything would've looked nicer than what I had pictured. I soon learned that these brick foundations once housed the working class.
It's a bit unsettling - the thought that while a week's worth of work may amount to insulating and drywalling the insides of one house, the house remains unfinished. And that this is just one house in one block, where maybe 85% of the houses require rebuilding or demolition. One block in one neighborhood. One neighborhood in one town - one still very devastated town, two years after a natural disaster. It's not just unsettling; it's absurd.
It's not, however, as discouraging as I thought it would be. And here's why. I often used to think that with disasters or injustices of this magnitude, how could one individual possibly help in any significant way? I would be daunted at first sight and shy away from any real aid or responsibility, figuring there was not much I could do. And so I wouldn't and would eventually be distracted and forget. But here's where I was wrong: significance doesn't matter. Numbers, statistics, heroic tendencies - none of that really matters. I hope I'm making sense. It doesn't matter the number of people you help but that you helped. That you come down and have conversations and just listen and remember. And that counts for something.
And so today, after a full day of drywalling, I was simply content biting into the crisp fruit within my grasp on a hot Louisiana autumn day.