Posted by: canaryinacoalmine | September 5, 2005

Drowning in someone else’s life

I’m not going to cry

Erin and I would state this phrase in many ways over the next few days.

I almost lost it back there.

We both did.

Walking in to the Reliant Center we were passing families sitting on the curb. They had a look of boredom and distress. A volunteer mother knelt down beside a escapee mother and her two sons listening to their story. The V.M. moved closer and embraced the other mother. The volunteer’s daughter sat silently taken a back as if she understood for the first time in her life this is what compassion is.

Life altering is one way to describe the last few days. I’ll try to ignore how writing that makes me feel like a 15 year old who just had her first kiss. In reality, it’s what the country was built on and the meaning behind lyrics and songs.

Upon arriving at the Reliant Center every volunteer must attend a 20 minute orientation. Friday morning it became apparent none of the Red Cross Volunteers had slept in 3 days. They directed us as we moved like a herd of well dressed cattle down the escalator and into the Arena. Passing more Escapees as, “God Bless You’s” escaped their mouths. They were blessing us. What?

The Red Cross informed us, “Just find something to do, there’s plenty.” We went to work unloading Red Cross boxes. That’s when it happened. After unloading the first few boxes I looked to my far right and caught the eye of a man sitting on a row of cots. The television stations have shown the images every 10 minutes but that didn’t compare to seeing it with my own eyes. Rows of people on cots. Children sleeping, grandparents lost, the look of distraught, and faces of bewilderment.

I had lost Erin by now and began busying myself by handing out blankets and talking to the evacuees. A man with light brown skin and green eyes dutifully thanked me inquiring if I knew how he could get to the Port. He knew he needed to get a job. He arrived the day before and already understood there was NOTHING to go back to.

I wanted to tell him go here and they can help you. I wanted to tell him here’s the number you call. I wanted to tell him ……..

I had nothing.

FEMA and appointed officials were slow to respond, unlike Texas. Texas said, “BRING IT”

All I could offer was my business card.

Pathetic isn’t it?

Thursday and Friday the organization of the volunteers was something we took upon ourselves. After finding Erin by default and learning she had been greeting people on their way to Dallas shelters, we became aware of the make shift clothing distribution. Tables were set up on one side with hand written signs of


The line of Evacuees was draped around the Arena. My job was designated. Help people through the line and move it along. I didn’t want to push, I didn’t want to shove, and I didn’t want to notice the smell. One couldn’t escape the smell. All day long E. and I were hugging people and moving them along the line. We offered toys to the kids as we waited for other volunteers to find the right size, we rubbed backs and offered smiles. I assisted a woman who had a family of 5. After she had received her last piece of clothing I directed her towards the exit and said, “They can help you down here with toiletries. Shampoo, soap, toothpaste.” Her reply made me step back.

“Thank-you so much we must stink.”

I couldn’t help but hug her. Minutes must have passed as people began to notice her unleashing and me doing the same.

Fast Fwd a few hours

As E. and I walked around the Astrodome talking to people one of the toilets had over flowed. A man walked out of the restroom shaking his leg trying to get the water off his foot. I couldn’t help saying,

“Done with that.”
His reply, “I’m telling ya.”

Throughout the weekend I saw people I’ve known from brief encounters, several of my friends, and friends of friends all helping and volunteering their time. Doing what they could. This was happening all over the city. By the end of the weekend volunteers and donations were being turned away.
Houston pulled together opening homes, shelters, and arms.

Bring it. There’s a long road ahead.


  1. If only the elected federal officials from your state could be as prompt and helpful.

    That’s super cool that you took the time to volunteer.

  2. you already brought it, girl. im proud of you.

  3. I think it’s amazing that you did that. Way to bring it.

    And thank you for sharing it with the rest of us.

  4. You done brought it.

    Seriously, good for you. That’s awesome what you did.

  5. Oh, it’s been broughten.

  6. You did something very important.

  7. Thanks everyone. I only did what I would hope anyone who had the means and ability to do the same would do given the travesty of the situation.

  8. I’m not going to cry……

  9. Good for you for bringing it. You did a good thing and you nailed it on the head about compassion.

  10. Do you all think that Jessica deserves a “Bring It On” party?

  11. Thanks for doing something that, geographically, many of us cannot. Your efforts are appreciated!

  12. Ugh..
    Reading your post makes me relive it all over again. I haven’t been able to sleep well since I volunteered.

  13. Jess,

    I was so relieved when Texas stepped up and said, “Just let ’em come here. We got this.” When I heard it, I knew that you would be proud of your city, and that you wouldn’t be able to help getting involved.

    I know this is sort of traumatic for ya and I want you to know I think of you and send you telepathic warm fuzzies throughout the day.



%d bloggers like this: