Katrina Journal
Gulfport, MS — October 2005

Life's Debris

An antique lamp, a tax return, a cookie sheet, toothbrush, souvenir mug, and a pack of sodden tissue lie among the rubble. Eight weeks after the flood, the tray of silverware still harbors murky water. The big-screen TV sits out back, silenced and darkened forever. The refrigerator, stove, washer, dryer, microwave, and ironing board lie in the right-of-way alongside water-logged drywall, carpeting, sinks, and cabinetry ripped out of the kitchen.

Dishes, glasses, picture frames, folded clothing, and a riding mower with flattened tires await carting off. Items sometime so important lie exposed to the sun’s rays, as on exhibit for all the world. For her, it is as though the very fabric of her life has been laid bare—her chest ripped apart to expose what should remain concealed from the world’s view.

Belongings cherished or thoughtlessly stashed inside her house are being carted outside unceremoniously. Dumped near the road, they lie piled, broken, and discarded by strangers called on to mud-out a home ravaged by backed-up waters of the Pearl River. Eight weeks of sitting inside a house flooded with over nine feet of putrid water altered forever any concept of their value and worth.

Does she salvage the lamp? It was her grandmother’s. It could be re-wired, but it would have to be disinfected inside and out. Soak it in a chlorine solution, then remove all the sludge and rust. The lampshade is a complete loss. Is there any reason to rescue the base? Will it be a reminder of grandma, or will it reek forever of disaster, destruction, and despair?

There is the china cabinet still holding its cherished place settings. Most are broken. A couple of place settings can be rescued before the rest is thrown on the heap of debris. Her daughter wanted to inherit the china. Two place settings survived to be cleansed, disinfected, wrapped, and placed under the Christmas tree. No idea yet where the tree will stand. It will be months before the house can be repaired.

The treadmill will never work again. Whether or not it was still being used just doesn’t matter anymore. Little of the things once cherished matter now. They are memories and reminders of a past drowned in the surging waters. They are part of pre-disaster life—life that will never again be the same.

The flood waters have turned a page in time that now demands a different sense of meaning and purpose. Experiencing one’s belongings tossed carelessly to the elements brings a sense of finality to material destruction. The cleansed house receives a new focus. The yard looms as a war zone, but the inside takes on the look of a construction site.

Who are these strangers carting out her intimate belongings and treasures? Strangers are not allowed to pillage the nooks and crannies of one’s home! That would be an invasion of privacy, and yet all sense of privacy is heaped in wheelbarrows, carted away by hand and glove. They must be friends, for exposure like this comes only in the face of loyalty or violence. The waves of violence have long since receded.

It is not easy to turn one’s eyes off the heap of destruction, but inside the house a distinct reality emerges. Floors are being swept clean. Mud, putrid flooring, broken and scattered items from walls, cabinets, and shelving are gone. It is no longer a chore to pick her way through debris to walk through the house. The molding drywall and soggy insulation are history. Light begins to reach the recesses of the darkened house.

The cleansed inside radiates ever so lightly with a glimmer of hope. Home can be rebuilt here with a clean start. It will take time. It will require effort and patience. Many decisions need making. Those plans for a new kitchen are now worth serious thought. Furnishings demand an altogether different perspective. Never had the house been ornamented and cached with the thought that strangers would drag all contents into the light. Seeing once cherished belongings discarded raises, like never before, the question of their worth.

Eventually the debris will be hauled away. Her kitchens will be remodeled. The house will be re-constructed. Furnishings will be replaced. Life will be rebuilt. Memories of sudden devastation will slowly ebb, receding into mist. Like the lamp, however, nothing will ever be quite the same. There are too many questions left unanswered. Issues once buried have suddenly come to light. Among the debris there is yet life—like a ray of hope glinting off a rusted, antique lamp.

—©Copyright 2005 Christopher B. Harbin

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