The Letter to a Katrina Survivor
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For the last week, since I finally located you after the hurricane, you seemed to have maintained an extraordinarily bright spirit . . . despite, that is, how much I knew you had to be grieving.
But last night I caught you at a moment where your silence said it all. And for someone who makes his living writing and counseling people about triumphing over their challenges, I should have had the words.
If I was there with you, I could have at least embraced you, my friend, and somehow absorbed part of that pain. Instead, I didn’t know what to say.
Please allow me to attempt to express myself to you now in this letter.
Allow me to begin by saying that no one can begin to understand the magnitude of your loss.
In the past, others have lost their homes . . . through fire, through foreclosure, even through divorce. Losing a home is extraordinarily traumatic and can take years to recover from.
But, unlike those who go through such losses, you cannot return to your city with Nghi and the children to rebuild all that now is gone. You have been displaced hundreds of miles away. You have lost your way of life.
You not only lost your home, you also lost the practice you spent 22 years building. Whereas your days were lovingly spent touching and healing patients who became like family to you, now you must sit in the home of others not knowing how you will support your own family.
You gave to so many and often for so little. Now you don’t know if you’ll ever find the strength and resources to rebuild and to do again what is so natural to you.
But above all is perhaps your loss of Toby. You can no longer come home from a hard day’s work to be enthusiastically greeted at the door by your loyal pet’s unwavering love. With God’s grace, maybe Toby has survived and is being taken care of.
I sit here not knowing any better what to say to ease your grief than I did last night.
All I can think is how in the many times in our nearly thirty years of friendship you always had the right words to say to me.
When my father was dying and refused all treatment, your gentle whispers allowed me to let go. When I, for the first time in my writing career didn’t know what to write next, your words steered me toward my highest purpose. And when we were in school, you warmly humored me into laughing at my innocence with the opposite sex (“Is Mikey a man yet?”).
You are so filled with life, love, grace and laughter, my friend, I can’t help but know there yet will be many more people whose lives will be touched by you.
I will never forget your words to me when we were students. I told you that I didn’t want you and Nghi to always be cooking for me whenever I came over to study. I didn’t want you to think that was the reason I was coming over (which, of course, as a starving student who didn’t know how to cook himself, it often was!).
You said to me, “Mikey, feeding you is like feeding me.”
Those words, my dear friend, still take my breath away.
Can a person who has such a soul ever truly lose everything?
Please allow me to say to you, Antoine . . . now is your time to be fed.
This is surely one more thing weighing on you – you, who have been so self-supporting, now having to partake of the assistance of others. I know how difficult it can be for the greatest of givers to be receivers, too.
And yet isn’t this the cycle of things? Doesn’t God give all good givers a season of receiving so they will later return to giving in ways they could never have given before?
I know you and Nghi experienced something similar as teens when you came to America, driven from Vietnam. That, perhaps, was a lifetime ago, when you felt more resilient and had less established to lose.
I am remembering something a Holocaust survivor said to me. When I met him, he was in his sixties. After rebuilding his life in this country, he lost his son in a tractor accident. Then his wife, working as a real estate agent, was murdered.
When I asked him how he found the strength to go on, he said, “It takes a long time. But one day you stop looking behind, and you start looking forward.”
It is so important to be present with all you are feeling. Without that, there is no healing. But grieving, yet at the same time “being strong,” is a conscious decision.
Your daughter said it best of all: “The Higher Self has to give the order for the Lower Self to be obedient.” As she so wisely stated, “That alone calms the waters.”
You know my home and my heart is open to you, Nghi and the children.
Whatever I can do for you.
With great love,