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The Louisiana Spirit in the Wake of the Flood

”He would give you the shirt off his back.” It was a phrase often used to describe my papaw. And indeed, it was true. I grew up watching his daily acts of kindness, tending a garden, fishing in the bayous, willingly giving away the bounty to strangers and friends alike. He worked hard all of his life, telling me that “if your boss pays you two dollars, you give him four dollars’ worth of effort.” He greeted the constant round of visitors who came to call, with his ready smile and quick wit as he entertained them under the shade of the pecan tree in the yard. And he never failed to make them laugh with his gift for storytelling, spinning tall tales he often made up on the spot. He was honest, dependable, kind, always there to lend a hand to someone in trouble, often to his own peril. No, he wasn’t a hero; he was just being himself.

As I watch the events in Louisiana unfold, I am reminded of him. Media coverage of this catastrophic event is woefully lacking, a shameful indicator that the press prefers to report the sensational, the bad and the ugly, because that is what attracts viewers and readers. No, there is little of that kind of story to report. There is no looting or violence, no rioting or revolting; instead, there is simply a group of people banding together during a crisis of major proportions. But if they did investigate, they would discover countless acts of kindness, of unselfishness, of heroism as residents work tirelessly to help each other. They would see people, who have lost everything themselves, pitch in to clear the debris from a neighbor’s house. They would encounter the “Cajun Navy,” a group of volunteers with boats, who have worked day and night to rescue those stranded or in danger, providing transportation for victims who need to see what remains of the place they once called home. They would see strangers from unaffected areas in the state launching campaigns to gather relief supplies, driving for hours to personally deliver them to those in dire need. They would meet people who care deeply, who give without expecting anything in return. They would see the Louisiana I know and love. And they would witness the spirit of a people, like my papaw, who have known adversity and refuse to let it destroy the essence of what makes them resilient, compassionate. They would meet a unique group of people, who have survived numerous adversities that hails back to their roots when they were expelled from Nova Scotia, after enduring a cultural suffering. The collective determination, the resilience, the irrepressible essence only growing stronger with each passing generation. It is the finest, lasting legacy of the Cajun.

My son is among those affected. I live far away, so I wait for updates, simple texts or quick phone calls. They are homeless, a sad reality that pains me as I am unable to help beyond offering for them to join us here. But he is upbeat, positive, and optimistic, in spite of the fact that he has no idea where he and his family will lay their head tonight. He has celebrated the fact that his young son’s favorite toys were salvageable and joked that their backyard trampoline is now a mile down the road. Taking his responsibilities seriously, he only missed two days of work because he had a job to do, a paycheck to earn to support his own. He reminds me that he is the great grandson of an incredible man. Yes, I am extremely proud of him, and the state which I will always consider home.

Please keep the victims of the Louisiana flood in your thoughts and prayers. Recovery will be long and difficult. They will sweep out the muck, dry out the water; they will rebuild and embrace another day with joie de vivre. Because that’s what they do.

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