Ten years ago today, I was running my tail off in a Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge Louisiana. It had all hit the fan, the levees hadn’t held, and the city of New Orleans was taking on water. The entirety of disaster relief was shifting gears as they relocated their centers of operation out New Orleans to Baton Rouge and elsewhere. In short, it was a mess…
And I can remember taking dry clothes and food to different people. Most of them had only been pulled off of rooftops by one means or another that very morning. Many were still wet. And many more would come over the next few days. Often, they had been pulled out with only some family and were unsure who got out and who was still stuck, and who they would never see again. One story was of a man and a woman trapped in an attic as the water kept coming. They decided that they would swim for it and that he would go first to open the doors. He popped up out of the waters. She never came.
It was a time of uncertainty and chaos and very little hope. Our levees had failed us and the national debate whether politicians would do anything more than rhetoric dragged on.
And in the midst of it being at the Red Cross, I can remember one gentleman asking only for a pair of dry socks, and to help others get the clothes that they would need. He just wanted the basics and then to help others find what they needed in the midst of the chaos. I think of this man as Jesus, or very much like Jesus. Either way, I could see my Lord in him. He was missing teeth, and lanky, and he had been thru the worst of the storm and was kind and wanted to help others. His job, his house, and the neighborhood he was from; all swept away. And he was offering himself to care for those who had been through a similar hell. He was like Christ to me, or at least that is what I saw in him.
It was in those days that I begin to see God’s face on so many. “What you do for the least of these, you do for me,” Jesus says. There was Jesus in an elderly woman, and a man in wheelchair, and so many others. Could God’s face be on so many? And yet we are each created in God’s image, bearing that likeness.
Which makes me wonder about today. The world at times can still seem hopeless, chaotic, and overwhelming. In the coffee shop the other day, the folks next to me were talking about trying to support Catholic Social Services as they helped a refugee family resettle. The folks on the other side were wondering what to do without work and income despite trying. There are still many without home, a warm bed and some even without dry socks.
And so, for many, the remembrance of Hurricane Katrina ten years ago is images of folks on roof tops and capital addresses from the White House. For me though, it is a remembrance that the image of Christ is in each of us – and that we are still called to be hope for a people bearing burdens through a storm, ‘to do for the least of these’. This is a Christian call.