Hi everyone, Jeff here.
I am 3 days into this trip and I can honestly say I am a changed man. Here's why.
I grew up in a middle-class family in Maine. It was me, my older brother and my parents. We lived in a modest ranch-style home with a pool in the backyard on a quiet street. We would go on family vacations every summer. We owned 2 cars. There was no crime, no poverty, no natural disasters. It was a very comfortable existence.
We never worried about things like where our next meal would come from, where we would sleep at night, our home, or our health.
The people who used to live in the 9th Ward of New Orleans lost everything. Many people know this, but they never really understand fully what that means. I had no idea until I walked past a house that had been destroyed and examined the contents of the "garbage" pile in the front yard. Once I saw a little girl's doll...a frying pan...a television set...a stack of books...I realized what it really meant.
If I could have one wish, it would be that everyone in America come to the 9th Ward in New Orleans and see for themselves what is going on. Walk through the neighborhoods like I have. Talk to the people. Experience this reality first-hand and really get a sense of it unlike any television story or news article you might read could provide.
The people here are wonderful. They've lost everything and they are wonderful. I am forever humbled by their show of fortitude and graciousness. It is ironic how in these times of tragedy, the essence of the true human spirit shows itself in all its glory.
But is it really ironic? My experience here has me thinking otherwise.
I walked past a group of people in the 9th Ward the other day near our work site. At first I thought they looked somewhat sketchy and I wasn't sure what to expect. As I walked by, I looked at them and just smiled. They immediately smiled back, asked me how my day was going, and wished me well. These people were hanging out in front of their house which was little more than a shack, but they wore bright smiles, kind eyes, and genuinely talked to me.
Last week I walked down Mass. Ave. in Boston and I passed a guy wearing an expensive suit getting out of his Lexus. Again I just smiled at him but he frowned at me, answered his cell phone and started arguing with the person on the other line.
We live in a very materialistic culture. We identify and find comfort in our possessions. This is a shame. Think of everything you own and hold dear to you. Now think about losing it all and not being able to do anything about it.
It is my personal belief that when you strip away all the superficiality of material possessions and identification with status, wealth and the ego, people are good natured, generous, and happy. I also believe that most of us in America are extremely fortunate yet we lose perspective on just how good our lives are. We become so wrapped up in our own lives we lose perspective and spend lots of time and energy worrying about inconsequential things.
I've realized only 3 days into this trip that perspective is so important to us all. We all need reminders of how incredible our lives are regardless of our status, wealth, success, material possessions. I know that this experience will forever remind me how fortunate I am.