This past week was our spring break. We headed to New Orleans where we spent time rehabbing a house with the Saint Bernard Project and getting to know other members of our Dominican family. Here is just one story from our very full week:
It was our first full day in New Orleans. Skies were blue, it was warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt, and I'd just discovered there was a big park near the convent: perfect conditions for a run! I headed out the front door and got one full block before tripping on an uneven slab of pavement and tumbling to the ground (un-gracefully enough that the dog in the yard next to me gave a startled bark.)
Grateful I was close to home, I went back to clean up the knee and hand that took the brunt of the fall. Rather than wander through the house with my bloody knee looking for a bandage, I went into the kitchen where I knew there were two women cooking. The older of the two took me into a side office, pulled out a first aid kit, and remarked, "well, you got your first souvenir to take home with you!" Then, in an expert way that led me to believe she'd done this a time or two before, she began fixing me up.
We introduced ourselves. I learned that although B was not a New Orleans native, she'd moved to the city in the 1960s and had raised her kids there; it felt like home. She had been working at the convent for over 20 years. Soon, the younger woman came in and I learned that she was B's daughter. Before long, talk inevitably turned to Katrina. Before the storm (I learned that New Orleans residents now mark the passage of time by Katrina), B and her husband had shared a duplex with their daughter, and they had lost almost everything in the storm. They told me stories of saving a precious few family photos and of long months of waiting to move back home. They lovingly described other members of their family who have never moved back. Over and over, they repeated their gratitude for not having lost what really matters: one another. Before I knew it, what could have been a five minute fix had turned into a 45-minute conversation.
We novices have arrived safely back in St. Louis, bringing with us plenty of other souvenirs: new skills learned on power tools, stories of Hurricane Katrina survivors, meals and laughter with Dominican family, lots of touristy photos, and of course coffee with chicory. But so far, my first souvenir has been the most important. Long after the bandages come off and the scabs heal, I'll remember the blessing of my time with this mother-daughter pair and their gifts of story and self.