"Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf's edge and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.I have been thinking about this parable all week. New Orleans is an amazing city. Its architecture is rich and beautiful. Its history is vast. Walking through the French Quarter, where our hotel is located, I feel like I am in Paris. The shops are vibrant. The tourists are strong. It is great to see that New Orleans, at least here, is recovering.
"The man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.
"As he came up to the person he said, 'You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can't possibly make a difference.' The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, 'It sure made a difference to that one!'"
But the neighborhoods are overwhelming. We are working on a street that is populated mostly by empty or decayed houses. In between the two new Habitat for Humanity houses, where we are working, is a house that has sunken into the ground. The roof is below knee level. The weeds have overgrown what is left of the green shingles. This decayed house sits there, untended, as a part of the landscape. For every new home being built, there are dozens (if not hundreds) more, in need of renovation, or in need of being torn down and rebuilt completely.
In New Orleans this week, I sometimes feel like the man in the parable, watching the person toss the starfish back into the ocean, wondering how the job will ever get done. Three years have past since Hurricane Katrina, yet the city is nowhere near where it needs to be. How will it ever heal? How will it ever be restored?
But everytime I start to feel discouraged, I remind myself that the work we are doing, and the work thousands of others are doing, is making a difference. People are re-building New Orleans one house at a time, one nail at a time, one 2x4 at a time.
Just as the person throwing those starfish back into the ocean has made a difference for that starfish, we have made a difference for Miss Ruby, who will live in the house we have been working on all week.
I am also humbled this week, truly humbled, by the dedication and hard work of my Berklee colleagues, and by all the volunteers. We are working with people like Nancy and Kyle, who took their own vacation time and came at their own expense to New Orleans, because they wanted to help. Another volunteer, Jim, from Campers on a Mission, is a retiree who spends 5-6 months a year, with his wife, in his RV, traveling the country and helping. He has been our mentor, showing us how to hang "dead wood," prep for drywall, and shore up trusses with support beams. Such selfless giving reminds us that there are kind people in the world and that, with all of this love and help, one starfish at a time, New Orleans will recover.
I am grateful for this experience.