This is the dramatic story behind a new website, http://www.LettersToKatrinaSurvivors.com, where beautiful letters are arriving from around the world providing emotional support to the millions of hurricane survivors.
With the utmost respect for all who suffer, the story begins, however, with humor. Here it goes. . .
When I was 18, I was about to starve to death.
Okay, I may be exaggerating. But it was my first time living away from my parents as a freshman chiropractic student near Atlanta, Georgia.
And the only thing I knew how to cook was rice and beans, which I boiled together, added salt and choked half of them, literally forced them twice a day.
I would eat the garbage outside on the porch of my second floor apartment.
This way, if you can excuse me for being graphic, when I couldn’t bear it anymore, I had a place to spit the last bite into the bushes below.
One day, while I was literally drowning there, I noticed an Asian student walk into the apartment across the street. In a blatant case of racial profiling, I said to myself, “I bet that guy can cook!”
And what do you know, every day, therefore, I was walking under my hanger, carrying a shopping bag with exotic vegetables and spices that looked wonderfully spilling over the top.
I followed his movements with the eye of a skinny wolf, waiting for the right moment to make my move.
I don’t remember the moment when I finally introduced myself to the Asian student named Antoine, but I will never forget how abruptly my life changed afterward.
I went from being half starved with prison porridge, to suddenly finding myself feasting twice a day on splendid Vietnamese cuisine. Tempting soups, hot chili dishes, sauteed fish (with head and eyes still intact!) Would be had before Antoine and I’s two lucky roommates, both at lunch and dinner time.
In two weeks, I regained the 10 pounds that I had lost since moving from under my parents’ wings a short time before.
Much more than this, despite my less than admirable reasons for introducing myself to the Asian student, I quickly formed a bond with him that has lasted almost thirty years.
Antoine not only fits my stereotype that all Asians are good cooks, he also fits another stereotype: that all Asians are wise.
This image comes from my growing up years watching David Carradine play a Shaolin priest on the hit ’70s TV series “Kung Fu.”
And indeed, my new friend had a depth like no one I’d ever known. He would learn that his spirituality had been cultivated in his teens when he was transferred to France and then to the United States to escape the conflict in Vietnam.
Having lost my sister to cancer only two years before meeting Antoine when I was sixteen, I felt a great affinity of spirit with him.
Over the years, his wise advice would become an important part of who I am.
His wise words to me when I was in my early thirties and dealing with the slow disappearance of two years of my father due to cancer allowed me to find the depth of my adolescence that I thought I had lost.
In my book, “The 9 Perceptions of the Rich Soul,” I portray the multitude of conversations I had with Antoine and everything he revealed to me.
Now, years later, another great event has imposed itself on our friendship.
After we graduated from chiropractic school, Antoine settled in to practice in New Orleans.
For five agonizing days after the devastating hurricane, I had no news from my friend or his family.
I finally located him in Houston. Although safe, his life will never be the same again.
He and his family have lost their home, the clinic he has been building for 22 years, and his two beloved dogs.
Very distraught over the loss of his pets and the television images of those suffering so horribly in New Orleans, people who had been his friends and patients, my friend, however, seemed to be taking it all as well as expected.
I called him every night, trying to keep him upbeat. Now I realize that the shock partially concealed the magnitude of his loss from hitting him yet.
But then the fourth night after locating him, he suddenly didn’t respond to anything I said. He could barely confirm that he was still on the phone with me.
When I hung up, I felt bereft. Having spent my childhood experiencing the slow loss of my sister to cancer for six years, I knew what pain was. And I had spent my entire professional life helping patients overcome a variety of physical and emotional challenges.
However, I had not had the words to comfort my friend.
When I woke up the next morning, I started writing him a letter. He wanted to crystallize what he knew he was feeling.
There is something very powerful, very valuable, in acknowledging the pain of another person. Especially when you do it in writing. And even more so, when you follow him with a ray of hope.
It was while writing that letter that I had an idea that it could be extremely beneficial for people to be able to write similar letters of love, hope, and support to hurricane survivors.
So I created a website: http://LettersToKatrinaSurvivors.com.
With Antoine’s permission, I sent him my letter.
Even more important, you can post your own letter there expressing all your hope, love, and support for the survivors.
On the site you can see beautiful letters from all over the world.
I would ask you, dear reader, to add yours now.
Just go to http://LettersToKatrinaSurvivors.com.
Read the heartwarming letters that others have written and write your own.
Let’s show Katrina survivors the nature of light to illuminate the darkest nights and the ability of love to conquer even the most devastating hurricanes.
Michael Norwood, DC, CCN