Blogathon for Pearlington

Saturday, August 05, 2006

My First Trip to Pearlington

My first time in Pearlington was last fall several weeks after the hurricane. I rode down in a Jeep with Phillip Reynolds, the pastor of UBC, Mike Ratliff, a member of UBC, and Jan (I’m sorry I forgot her last name), a secretary from Mike’s office who was, like me, looking for a way to help. I still get teased because Jan and I struck up a grand conversation on the way down to Pearlington and didn’t say a word on the way back. By that time we were too busy passing out from exhaustion in the back seat.

I thought I was prepared for what I would find in Pearlington. I’d been cleaning out storm damage from my mother’s house and my friend’s house for weeks. I’d driven to Waveland and seen first hand how our beautiful beachfront had just been wiped out. All of South Mississippi still looked like a war zone at that point, and I thought I was getting immune to its effects.

Nothing can really prepare a person for the level of devastation I saw in Pearlington, though.

Homes in Hattiesburg that needed gutting out were bad, but they weren’t packed full of mud and gunk from the Pearl River. And when I was working on them, they hadn’t had time to gather mold or maggots.

Early in the summer this year, I overheard a group of high school student volunteers from New York talking about gutting out a house in Pearlington. One of them said, “We made the mistake of opening the refrigerator,” and I cringed and gagged just listening to them. I had seen what Pearlington refrigerators looked like last fall. I had no interest in learning what they’d become by summer.

Our group split up that first day in Pearlington, going to about three different homes to work on shoveling out mud, pulling ruined furniture, clothes, and other belongings out to the road for the trash, and trying to find something we could salvage for the family. The home I worked on belonged to an older woman who was with relatives out of state. She was unable to even begin to figure out what to do about her flooded house on her own, but her grandson was there that day, and he worked beside us all day. He’s the one who told us that the family “went swimming” when the flood waters came in. Miraculously, they survived—the children, the elderly, the disabled alike.

I don’t think anyone could go to Pearlington and not care about the people there and what they’ve been through this year. That first day I left feeling not just that I should go back but that I must go back. Not just for them but for me as well. We get our best blessings in this life out of what we are able to do for others. Pearlington is one place where you can truly see what you are accomplishing day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

If you have a chance to go to Pearlington and don’t take it, you are only depriving yourself.


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