Editor's Note: Alan Baker, Executive Producer of WTOL.COM, spent a week in New Orleans as part of a mission group from Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo. These are his first-person accounts from the week.
"Is that a broken house?"
The simple question from my 4-year-old son spoke volumes. The hug I got from him two hours earlier when I got home was the best hug ever. Now we were at the kitchen table in the safety and security of Toledo, looking at my pictures of New Orleans on the laptop screen.
I could tell the wheels were turning inside his head, trying to grasp the enormity of it. Yes, I told him. That was a broken house. There were a lot of broken houses where I went. We helped to make them better.
"Did people die in the flood?"
He asked that with all the innocence a 4-year-old can ever muster. Yes, I told him. People did die in the flood. Hurricane Katrina was a terrible storm. The floods after that hurt many more. I hadn't tried to insulate him from the tragedy, but I hadn't gone out of my way to describe it, either. He was just starting to understand.
"Did the birds die, too?"
It's hard to know how to answer that. After a week wallowing in misery, I had never thought about it.
My week was all about the destruction and the massive loss of life and property. While there, I silently said a prayer at the monument in New Orleans' Ninth Ward to remember the people killed by Katrina's wrath. I spent my time thinking about and working for the people she didn't kill who were still cleaning up and moving on with life.
But I had never thought about the birds until he pointed them out to me.
My son's birds are a good analogy for what Katrina used to be for me. I knew Katrina existed, but I didn't think about it until some one pointed it out to me. Now Katrina has been pointed out to me in a way that I'll never forget.
A long moment passed. I swallowed hard.
Yes, I told him, the storm probably killed some birds, too. Others flew away before the storm came. Kind of like the people. It's hard to tell.
He seemed to like that answer.
This coming Monday, I'll pack my lunch, go to work, come home, take care of the kids and my wife and the dogs and the house, then go to sleep. Repeat ad infinitum. Ad nauseam.
But in the back of my mind will be all the people we met in New Orleans. Karen, whose house we drywalled. Henry, Alton, and Minnie, whose houses we destroyed in the name of making them better. The elusive and mysterious Bri, who I met without really meeting.
Next to them will be Paige, Warren, Patty, and the others who run the Eastbank Storm Station, and Reverend Tracy, whose church houses it.
And the team members who went through this with me: Bill, Clyde, Curt, David, Dick, Dolli, Don, George, Hollie, Kay, Ken, Margie, Marlene, Mary Alice, Pat, Roger, Suzanne, and Tim.
All of them have stories. Now that Katrina's been kicked from the back of my mind to the front, I plan to tell their stories to whoever will listen.
Just because 18 months have passed, it doesn't mean you can forget something like Hurricane Katrina. The people -- and the birds for that matter -- still need us.
The group from Epworth United Methodist Church worked under the auspices of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Eastbank Storm Station in New Orleans, part of the Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Response Ministry.