I’ve done this so many times in the last few years it should rote, but the excitement takes over every year. Just tonight I’ve been rooting through the basement and closet pulling things out for our stay at the All Souls Episcopal Church in the Lower Ninth. It’s probably not going to be that different from Camp Hope in St. Bernard Parish, or Katrina Relief in Waveland, MS, or the the three years at Madonna Manor in Marrero, LA, or last year at Peace Lutheran Church, Slidell, LA (where the guys slept in a shipping container — no kidding), but you want to be ready.
So, even though tomorrow is laundry day, I have my fleece sleeping bag, blanket, wind breaker, fleece vest, and a disposable towel and wash cloth, in the washer. I want to be ready. I want to have that pile of stuff on the floor of the bedroom ready to go into my duffle bag. Then there will be a couple of trips to Walmart for travel-size toiletries and this and that. And in between, I’ll have to work, buy more stuff for the trip, administer an exam, dole out travel money, spend time with my family, and pack. And I’ll panic a couple times in the process. But it will work out. It always does.
It will not be like 2006, when there were no retail businesses — anywhere on this side of the Mississippi. Even though we will be staying in the Lower Ninth, the poor step child to the rest of New Orleans, there is shopping nearby. And unlike some of the residents, we will have access to cars and vans.
But it will be different. We have spent nearly half a semester learning that, but there is nothing like seeing and living the real thing. I’ll miss what you’ll witness. You’ll leave New England for the hills of New Jersey and Pennsylvania That seemingly endless stretch of I-81 that goes from central Pennsylvania into Tennessee. And there you’ll enter the Deep South and hills will give way to pine forests as the land flattens toward the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll get on a flight in Boston. Change planes in Baltimore and only know I’m approaching New Orleans as I descend over Lake Pontchartrain. And I’ll meet up with you on this side of the Industrial Canal.
The weather looks great for all of us. Clear weather for driving and flying. No snow. No rain. When you hit Tennessee, temperatures will be in the 60s. When you hit New Orleans, it will be cloudy, but in the mid 70s. After the last few weeks snow, ice, and cold, I think you can deal.
My advice to you: take it all in. Savor the change, savor the distance, savor the new sites and sounds. It will be different and even your leaders will not be prepared for all of the changes you encounter. These are things that you’ll remember and have the potential to change you. And that is a good thing.
So, sleep when you can over the next few days. Prepare and pack. But think about what you are about to do. And write about it. Absorb it. And learn from it. This is as important as anything you have learned in the course to date.