Sunday, August 30, 2009

Four years ago, this morning, I woke up...

Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9, Psalm 15, James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

...to see something that would change my life forever. It was something I had been concerned about since I was member of the Mississippi Legislature and the reality of the situation was there before my eyes.

The night before I did not get much sleep. The winds were howling so, banging on my door like a group of invaders trying to break in my apartment. Thunder roared, lightning flashed, rain poured down. All I could do was pray myself to sleep and hope the roof would not cave in or the door and windows would shatter under this brutal attack.

By the grace of God, I did sleep and then awoke. I turned on the television and there it was in my face: total devastation. Hotels where I had once stayed in where gone. Casinos where I had dined in where gone. Homes of friends (and enemies) were gone or severely damaged. My worst fear had come true and all I could think about was getting on my computer and start tracking down friends, not fully understanding that many of them would not respond until days later.

I was living in Clinton, some 200 plus miles from where Hurricane Katrina made a direct hit on Mississippi the morning of August 29, 2005. My car was in the shop being repaired, so I had no transportation to leave, but I did not worry because I figured the storm would weaken as it came north. It did, but not enough. When I stepped out on the balcony of my apartment four years ago, I saw trees down, I saw smoke billowing from afar, I heard sirens constantly. Fortunately my cellphone was charged and I could tell my parents I was alright. I could check on my son and ex-wife to see if they were alright. At least there was peace in that.

Then I went back to the TV and became instantly angry. For years I had been warning my legislative colleagues about this day. I had been pushing for legislation to put more money into our Mississippi Emergency Management Fund for I knew a day like this would eventually come. I expressed great concern when I would visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and see these tremendous skyscrapers being built near the beach, wondering what the impact would be to those structures and the people that lived in them. Now I was watching my worst fears come true and hearing the past voices of my colleagues saying, "Fleming you worry too much."

In the days that followed I got my land line phone up and made even more contact with folks I had concerns about, I walked to the police station and loaded trailers and I went to the church that had been designated a Red Cross shelter and spoke with the people who had made it north out of the brunt of the storm in time. I located family members for them, got some employment and housing here for them and just listened when they laughed or cried.

Then as friends were checking in on the Internet, they would ask how bad is it. I told them what they were seeing on television was real, it was that bad. It took me a month before I could go down to the coast myself and it was a surreal experience. I told one of the volunteers it was if the "War of the Worlds" had actually happened. An area that was once a city park was now looking like a field military compound, tents everywhere. I nearly threw out my back moving water-logged furniture out of houses. I had already been frustrated that we went into Special Session and all we could accomplish was allowing the casinos to move 800 feet inland. Now as I saw neighborhoods destroyed, I could only get more infuriated with the process.

It was an epiphany, a wake-up call for me. I have never been comfortable with the status quo since. I don't settle for "that is the way we always do it" anymore. People matter to me more. Doing the best you can is the only option. Living without some things doesn't phase me. God is truly the center of my life and pleasing Him is way more important than pleasing mankind.

My life journey has been a roller coaster since that morning four years ago, but I am thankful every day that I am still riding that roller coaster of life. I know from that experience that no matter how far you fall, how much devastation occurs in your life, God can help you pick up the pieces and He can fortify and renew your soul. I have nothing to fear for He is on my side.

I am fully awoke.