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|Written by Alex|
|Wednesday, 23 June 2010 18:59|
At long last, I'm here (and have been for 2 weeks). Here for 7 months, as a visiting researcher at the esteemed IIT Bombay. How? Prayer, perseverance, and the help of many. Why? That's a longer story:
I spent a week in 2006 gutting mold-infested homes in the 9th ward of New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina, with Campus Crusade For Christ. I had never been hotter, dirtier, or smellier. We slept in army cots in a concrete bunker, ate "food" out of big buckets, and had cold PVC-pipe "showers." I have never felt more fulfilled in my life. A man whose home we gutted thanked us, with tears in his eyes. And then he told us why. He could not have afforded the $5,000 - $10,000 we had saved him in gutting, which had finally made him eligible for relief funds. More importantly, he motioned around the shell of his home and pointed out the bars on the windows. "See these bars? It used to be that if it was a hot night, we would sleep with the front door wide open. Not anymore. And what's left has been destroyed. Yes, you have given me my home back, but you have also given me my hope back. You could be anywhere - partying, the beach... - but here you are, helping us. It gives me hope in the world again, after all that's happened." I've paraphrased, but those words seem as clear today as they were then.
The team in 'Nawlins, with the materials removed from thie gentleman's home (right, standing, blue shirt)
There I was, wearing a respirator, swinging sledgehammers, fists, and crowbars. I thought, "...this is great, breaking stuff down, but surely there must some way to use my engineering skills to help those in the greatest of need..."
On the 20-hour roadtrip home (tip: trying to eat a 5 lb can of peaches in a moving vehicle is hilarious, but may not end as you intended) we were grateful to have a church pay for us to stay at a Comfort Inn. You would think I'd be relieved to be back to civilization; a bed, couch, TV, hot shower....but I was ashamed. We had all gotten by just fine on army cots and mystery meat. At breakfast the next morning - our free, unlimited, hot breakfast with waffles, eggs, and more - a businessman looked at his food with scorn, and muttered "this toast is kind of stale..." I wanted to deck him. But a sudden realization stopped me: you are no better. In fact, most of the time, you're worse. Later, Ecclesiastes spoke to me: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure...yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done; and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind..." Pleasure and comfort are by no means bad things...but they can't be confused with the meaning of life. People wiser people than I have written on what the true meaning is, but in that moment, I knew it had to be more than airplanes and iPods. There were people in the world not agonizing about the 3rd generation iPod vs the 2nd generation iPod, but about whether their children would survive long enough to even be a 2nd or 3rd generation.
Surely my life's work could be worth something...so much need...water, food, communication, shelter, health, transportation...and that was the beginning.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 June 2010 21:02|