After twenty-five years of hurricane preparation and hearing that someday, if a hurricane hit New Orleans “just so,” the water from Lake Pontchartrain would overtake the levees, on August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded the city of New Orleans. Since we were living on our horse farm fifty minutes north of New Orleans, our farm was a refuge for friends evacuating the city and lakefront area during hurricane season. On August 22, our dearest friends Mark and Diana, who lived within ten blocks of the lake, arrived with cases of spring water, wine, assorted batteries, a windup radio, and food from the freezer that needed to be used. They also brought local family members including a sister, brother-in-law, and mother. We lost power during the hurricane, so we took turns winding the radio–-if you wound it sixty times you got two minutes of radio time. At the time, we had no clue about the level of devastation and suffering that was happening fifty miles away.

One of our friends drove her horse to us from a more vulnerable stable in New Orleans before the contraflow of traffic reversed and she was barely able to get back to evacuate with her family. We knew we had only a day or two to secure a generator to run the water pump or the horses would have no water. As in keeping with hurricane preparedness, all the troughs in the fields had been filled prior to the storm. Because we had so much food and a gas stove, we were in business. We had to cook everything in everybody’s freezers which we did over the next few days. Our deep freezer then served as a refrigerator for a few weeks with the power off.

The contrast with what the people in New Orleans were experiencing was stark. Before the storm hit, men nailed heavy plywood over the windows. We didn’t have enough plywood for all the windows so when the eye was overhead and there was a lull in the heavy wind gusts, they ran outside and switched them to the other side. From our house we saw many fences down and most of the large pine trees on our property and the adjacent properties were down as well.

Halfway through the storm, David ran up to the barn to check the horses. The barn was solid and the horses were freaked out, but they were safe. On the following day, the sun came out and the women went to the salt water swimming pool to bathe. There was a mixture of summer camp excitement, anticipatory dread and a lot of fear of the unknown. We were unable to leave the driveway since all of the telephone poles and many of the pine trees were blocking it. We had no idea about the level of devastation of the infrastructure and that it would take five weeks and crews from all over the United States to restore things. Our next-door neighbor, who had a good deal of heavy machinery, began working with our male neighbors to move the trees. Eventually, David and I were able to leave and drive north on a mission to find a generator. Most places were sold out of generators, batteries, fuel cans and gas. I called ahead to a Home Depot in Baton Rouge and secured a generator. David, Mark, Diana and I moved into our pop-up camper so we could use the air-conditioner. Louisiana heat is unbearable without air conditioning, especially if you have heat intolerance due to MS. At the time, I was walking with a walker and  able to maneuver through the yard and into the camper. Diana’s eigh-five-year-old mother was raking debris, toting water from the pond to the toilets. After a catastrophe of this proportion, we did what was needed and did it happily.

By the third day, Mark wanted to check on his home near the lakefront. They had to climb over large pine trees to get there and amazingly there was little damage to the house despite numerous fallen trees on their lot. By the following week, we would begin to see signs posted with references to firearms, which reflected threats of violence due to looting. If Louisiana ever felt like a banana republic, it did after Katrina.

There was another shift that we began to perceive two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. It was clear that the government was not going to help, and people began organizing to help one another. Neighbors were going door to door and listening stories of people trapped in their homes without staples. There was a cohesion that was developing out of necessity. My brother arrived from Pennsylvania with supplies to help out. He and I went to the Red Cross to volunteer our resources. Dale was a trained EMT and began working at shelters.

We began hearing inspirational stories of people coming together in service to others. After a few days we realized that text messages could get through and my psychotherapy group began to convene. One member mentioned that Katrina means “to purify.” We began to realize that after the initial shock and devastation, the state of Louisiana was going through purification. Crews were arriving at our door to be of service. There was the quality of open hearted-ness in the people that was palpable. When telephone service was restored, we received calls from all around the United States asking us what we needed. The shift toward co-creation for the survival of the collective was stimulated that August of 2005 and, due to the love of New Orleans, the evolution of altruism spread throughout the world. For the people who lost loved ones, the little picture is heartbreaking. For those who can see the bigger picture perspective, Tibetan nun and prolific teacher Pema Chodrun’s quote once again is operant: ““Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”

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