Today, I am in my hotel getting ready to go to work at the FEMA Call Center in Denton, Tx where I am detailed for a couple of weeks to work as a Stress Counselor. These people are on the phone 10 hours a day, seven days a week talking to survivors, helping people get their applications for FEMA support filled out correctly to get the callers what they need. I sincerely appreciate these folks, who have compassionate hearts. It is an honor to work with them. As the images of Irma flood out televisions and smart devices, the folks at the call center are preparing for the next wave of calls. Keep them as well as first responders, and survivors in your thoughts and prayers.
This is a second article concerning the components of resilient people, last week I wrote about the Two Traits of a Long-Term Marriage. Today I want to share a true story about a FEMA employee I met last hurricane season when I was working as a Stress Counselor at the JFO (Joint Field Office) in Baton Rouge last year.
I had been on the scene for a couple of days when a woman about my age asked if I would like to join some of the team mates for a cup of coffee and some homemade cookies. Being the “new Guy," I think they were trying to make me feel welcome in the very dynamic world of disaster response. I marvel at the team stories of what they had done over the years as they shared their FEMA stories. In FEMA land people identify their longevity by how many hurricanes they have experienced. As we begin to break up a couple of my new friends told me that I needed to speak to Deb (not her real name).
I introduced myself to Deb and asked about her FEMA story. Then I just engaged my listening ears and eyes as she began to unpack her story. In August of 2005 Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury on Southern Louisiana in the days and weeks that followed a story of tremendous human suffering followed. Deb’s story begins here.
I lived near the 9th Ward, and shortly after the levee broke, my family and I found ourselves flooded out and stranded. Thanks to some strangers, we were rescued and eventually made our way to a shelter, after spending a night on a bridge. From there my children and I lived in a shelter for about a week, within a couple of weeks, we moved in with some friends outside of Baton Rouge to begin our lives again.
Once we settled in I heard the FEMA was hiring, so I applied. I was so excited when they told me that they would be calling me within a few days. And as sure as the sun rising this morning I had a job at FEMA within five weeks of being flooded out in New Orleans. I have loved working with this organization who care so much for survivors of natural disasters. After all, they helped my family, and I get our feet back under us, and now that my children are all grown up it gives meaningful work as well as some time to enjoy my grand babies.
Then it happened again. One night in August of 2016 one of my boys called me and asked me if my house was flooding. I told him that I was fine, and though it had been raining that I was high and dry. That was until I swung my feet over from my bed to my floor when I felt the water coming over my feet. I thought, not again. Well, guess what, again has happened. My home was flooded, and once again my son and some friends helped me get out of my house. Fortunately, what was left of my “precious things” that I recovered from the floods were up high on my walls and in a storage facility that was on higher ground. The only thing I lost was furniture and some clothes, and for that I am grateful.
Before the night was over several of my FEMA friends were calling me to check on my status. I ensured them that I was just fine and that I was with my boy. The office told me to take whatever time I needed to before coming back to work. Within a day of two, I decided to get back to my job which is helping others. My home was insured, I carry the Federal Flood Insurance, so there was no need for me to wait around for something to happen.
I asked Deb about what made her so resilient and gave her the persistence and tenacity to refuse to become a victim. Her eyes opened a little wider, and a smile quickly came upon her face. My people, my family, are a tough bunch. Over several generations my people have show grit in tough times. My grandmother used to tell me that no matter what happens you have to keep your chin up and look for better days ahead. You see, I know that no matter what happens to me, He is going to be there with me to guide me, strengthen me, and give me hope. I also know that He has given me this type of work to do at this phase of my life to be a help and a testimony to others.
What a powerful statement.
Today, as I am mentally preparing for the next few days of my FEMA deployment, I am grateful to know people like Deb. As we speak, I am sure that she is in Baton Rouge helping the survivors of Harvey and Irma.
So, when it comes to tenacity and perseverance how would you rate yourself? In a culture that is fixated on blame, do you find yourself drinking the Kool Aid of blame shifting or are you in a place where you own the space that you find yourself? Are you whining or winning? Are you developing tenacity and perseverance, or wallowing in self-pity and despair. The choice is yours; I hope you will choose the higher road.
I would love to hear your thoughts!
John is a Counselor, Author, Speaker and Photographer that helps people "Get a Grip on Life."