Letter to a Katrina Survivor
This is the dramatic story behind a new website, www.LettersToKatrinaSurvivors.com, where beautiful letters are pouring in from around the world giving emotional support to the millions of hurricane s...
With greatest respect for all those suffering, the story nevertheless starts off humorously. Here goes . . .
When I was 18, I came close to starving to death.
All right, I may be exaggerating. But it was the first time I was living away from my parents as a freshman chiropractic student near Atlanta, Georgia.
And the only thing I knew how to cook was rice and beans, which I would boil together, add salt, and half gagging, literally force down twice a day.
I would eat the slop outside on my second story apartment stoop.
This way - if you can excuse me for being graphic - when I could no longer take it, I had a place to spit out the last mouthful onto the bushes below.
One day while quite literally choking there, I noticed an Asian student walking into the apartment across the way. In a blatant case of racial profiling, I said to myself, "I bet that guy can cook!"And what do you know, everyday hence, he'd go walking below my perch, carrying a grocery bag with wonderfully looking exotic vegetables and spices overflowing the top.
I tracked his movements with the eye of a lean wolf, waiting for the right moment to make my move.
I don't remember the moment I finally introduced myself to the Asian student named Antoine, but I'll never forget how abruptly my life changed afterward.
I went from being half-starved on prison gruel, to suddenly finding myself feasting twice a day on lavish Vietnamese cuisine. Tantalizing soups, hot chili dishes, sautéed fish (head and eyes still intact!) would be laid out before me and Antoine's two lucky roommates both at lunch and dinnertime.
Within two weeks, I regained the 10 pounds I had lost since moving from under my parents' wings a short time earlier.
Much more than this, despite my less-than-admirable motives for introducing myself to the Asian student, I quickly formed a bond with him that has lasted nearly thirty years.
Antoine not only fit my stereotype of all Asians being good cooks, he also fit another stereotype: that all Asians are wise.
This image came from my years growing up watching David Carradine play a Shaolin priest in the 70s hit television series "Kung Fu."
And indeed, my new friend had a depth unlike anyone I had ever met. I would learn his spirituality had been cultured in his teens when he was dislocated to France and later to the U.S. to escape the conflict in Vietnam.
Having lost my sister to cancer just two years prior to meeting Antoine when I was sixteen, I felt a great kindredness of spirit with him.
Over the years, his wise counsel would become a major part of who I am.
His sage words to me when I was in my early thirties and coping with my father's two-year slow demise from cancer allowed me to find the depth from my teens I thought I had lost.
In my book, "The 9 Insights of the Wealthy Soul" I portray the multitude of conversations I had with Antoine and all he would reveal for me.
Now, years later, another major event has imposed itself on our friendship.
After we graduated from chiropractic school, Antoine settled to practice in New Orleans.
For five agonizing days after the devastating hurricane hit, I had no word from my friend nor his family.
I finally located him in Houston. Though safe, his life will never be the same.
He and his family have lost their home, the clinic he spent 22 years building, and their two beloved dogs.
Greatly anguished at the loss of his pets and the television images of those so horribly suffering in New Orleans - people who had been his friends and patients - my friend nevertheless seemed to be taking it all as well as could be expected.
I called him every night, trying to keep him bolstered. I realize now that shock partially hid the full magnitude of his loss from yet hitting him.
But then, the fourth evening after locating him, he suddenly was non-responsive to anything I said. He barely could confirm that he was still on the phone with me.
When I hung up, I felt bereft. Having spent my childhood experiencing the six-year slow loss of my sister to cancer, I knew what grief was. And I had spent my entire professional life helping patients overcome a variety of physical and emotional challenges.
Yet I hadn't had the words to comfort my friend.
When I woke up the next morning, I began writing him a letter. I wanted to crystallize what I knew he was feeling.
There's something very powerful, very validating, about acknowledging another's pain. Especially when you do it in writing. And even more so, when you follow it with a ray of hope.
It was while writing that letter, that I got the idea that it might be extremely beneficial for people to be able to write similar letters of love, hope and support to the hurricane survivors.
I thus created a website: http://LettersToKatrinaSurvivors.com.
With Antoine's permission, I've posted my letter to him on it.
Even more importantly, you can post your own letter there expressing all your hope, love and support for the survivors.
Beautiful letters from around the world can be viewed on the site.
I would ask you, dear reader, now to add yours.
Simply go to http://LettersToKatrinaSurvivors.com.
Read the moving letters others have written and write your own.
Let us all show Katrina's survivors the nature of light to illuminate the darkest of nights, and the ability of love to conquer even the most devastating of hurricanes.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Michael Norwood is the bestselling author of "The 9 Insights of the Wealthy Soul.” The book has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. A large portion of the proceeds from his books are being used to donate to the hurricane survivors. You can read about his book and write your own letter to the Katrina survivors at http://LettersToKatrinaSurvivors.com