Over the weekend, I went downtown to our convention center. It has been turned into a shelter for the families who lost power due to the ice storm. Considering there were 1.5 million people without power in the metro, it proved to be a valuable service to many people.
I have to say, it was overwhelming. One very large room with rows of cots piled high with blankets and pillows, with plastic bags full of clothes stuffed underneath. Some of the cots were pushed together in groups – family stations. The room was divided into three – single men to the left, families in the middle, and single women to the right. I spoke with the shelter director and told hm who I was and that I was there to provide counseling to shelter residents. He jokingly ( I think) replied, ‘Thank God”. I asked him where to go, we directed me to just jump in. I started walking around asking if people were staying warm, to which most replied they were still cold. So I sat on the concrete floor while my butt froze through my jeans as I talked with families about they struggles they had that lead them to the shelter. Some talked about their experience in the shelter, others talked about anything other than their current situation. One lady gave me very graphic details about her many health issues. Usually I would re-tell her stories and find the humorous side, but even thinking about it makes me queasy as I am typing, so let’s move on.
All in all, people were pretty calm and pulled together. Almost everyone realized that although they currently were living a scene that looked like it came from the headlines of the Katrina coverage, most would still have a home to go back to in a week or so when power was restored.
Towards the end of my shift, I sat down next to an 82 year woman. Her husband of 50 years was sleeping, but she took advantage of the time and told me her fascinating life story. I asked her what was the secret to 50 years of marriage, and she replied, “Oh, I guess learning how to put up with the other person.” I sat there thinking that the answer would be more insightful or significant, but I guess not. She was married three times, the first time at age 16 after running away from home. ” You know how us old people were a little fast back in the day” she stated. Hence her first marriage. Nothing in her story strayed too far from the norm, nothing too adventures or shocking. I cant really identify why she had such an impact on me, but I hope but I never forget her or the experience of sitting there and listening to her story.