Driving into Tuscaloosa a few weeks ago was a scary adventure. The biggest disaster I’d ever survived was Hurricane Hugo just three weeks before my fifth birthday. I thought living without power for three weeks and watching my parents and neighbors put life back together would help me empathize with these families that had lost so much.
As I headed toward 35th Street toward the Habitat for Humanity affiliate, I realized that there was nothing in my life that could ever compare to the enormous loss these people had suffered. That week, it was the worst of the spring storm systems. Now looking at Joplin, Mo. and other areas of the Midwest, I’m thankful for the experience of seeing that down and out brings out the best in communities.
While it’s hard to stomach the smell of rotting meat from abandoned stores and ask these survivors intimate, personal questions to understand their situation better, I was amazed and inspired by Alabamans’ resolve and heart. One moment a 10-year-old shared what it felt like to be so close to death while watching her family’s roof being ripped off and in her next sentence could joke about how a sibling was doing what siblings do best, annoy each other. It showed me that regardless of how much life falls apart, it’s community that keeps everything together. While visiting a mobile home park where probably five of 40 mobile homes remained, residents turned down water and ready made meals because they were “alright” and “OK.” Someone else had to be in more need than them.
I’m always incredibly grateful for the career I have that’s allowed me to meet amazing and resilient people and this trip was no exception. Having a family that’s lost their home offer you a drink, and even a place to stay, is incredibly humbling. I can only hope that I have an ounce of their hospitality for others around me, even on a boring, average day.
UPDATE: On June 2, the affiliate announced plans to build five to 10 new homes this year. I can’t wait to see them do it.