It takes me back to the post flooding of New Orleans and my work there as a medical volunteer. I wasn't writing a blog then, but I wrote about it later. One of the things I have never mentioned or written about was the story one survivor told me when I was taking care of him at the refugee center in Baton Rouge.
The patient was a young black man in his 30s who was displaced and was with his uncle at the Center that served as temporary housing for about 5000 victims. He left his home as the waters started rising and was walking shoulder deep through the murky water. People were left to fend for themselves and, except for helicopters flying overhead and CNN recording the events below them on the ground, there was no organized rescue effort at that time. This man was trying to get to higher ground and was helping others around him. As the sun started to set a rowboat came along side of him with men carrying guns.
He told me they said, "Get out of here or just die. We want you dead." I couldn't believe my ears. "Are you sure they said that?" "Maybe you were in shock and didn't really hear them right", I naively replied. "Why didn't they help you? Did they just leave you there?" I asked...not really hearing what he was saying.
I was incredulous that no help was offered and that they threatened him while he was helpless. Frankly I just didn't believe the story, despite the details he provided and the sad, matter of fact way he spoke of it. I brushed by his story and now I wish I would have listened with a more open ear and encouraged him to talk even more.
When people survive atrocities, just being heard and validated can help with healing. My lack of understanding of the overt racism that exists in the South prevented me from hearing the truth and I failed that gentleman after the disaster. The stories that are emerging now need to be heard.