SILVER LININGS – by Al Sturgeon


[Note: After a LONG absence from the blog, I’m going to try to get back in the swing of things on Thursdays. Amy agreed to fill in for me from time to time, but the new regular plan is for me to write something pretending to be “inspirational” each Thursday. Since I’ve been inundated with Hurricane Katrina, you’ll have to excuse that most of my entries will be Katrina-related. That’s where I came up with a little title for these weekly attempts to inspire, to find a “silver lining” or two in storm clouds.]


Her name is Claire. Her name makes me think of classy Mrs. Huxtable from The Cosby Show, or maybe Hannibal Lecter making those sick little chipmunk noises in Silence of the Lambs. Wait, that was Clarice, wasn’t it? Oh well. It truthfully sounds most like a cute name for a little girl, but none of these fit with this Claire.

Since Hurricane Katrina screwed up the Gulf Coast, my major responsibility in life has been to organize scads of volunteers descending on our church family to help hurting people. This has not been easy. I have taught 7th grade geography classes in years gone by, which in my estimation stood as the epitome of managing chaos, so how hard could organizing good-willed adults coming to rebuild the Gulf Coast really be? Not nearly as easy as you’d think.

I prefer having things planned out well in advance. I mean, like years in advance. It’s a sickness I know, but then again so is Star Trek. At least I don’t attend conventions in pointy ears. But I digress. In the aftermath of Katrina, as volunteers arrived in droves, having things planned five minutes in advance became quite an accomplishment – which was what I was trying to do the morning I met Claire.

Someone had fielded a phone call from Claire a day or two before, and since I had a new volunteer group with nothing yet to do, the note saying she needed help combined with her proximity to our church building allowed me to run by her house quickly to see if we could offer some assistance.

It turned out that “running by her house quickly” would not be hard at all, given the fact that the house was no longer there. Claire’s house used to be a block or two away from Front Beach in Ocean Springs, but when I arrived all that remained were a lot of cinder blocks – and a trailer.

The note on the trailer made it very clear that no one – NO ONE – should be on the property or knock on the door without the express written consent of Major League Baseball. And this consent must be secured over the telephone. So I took out my cell phone, and while the phone rang and rang unanswered inside the trailer a few yards from where I stood, the door cracked open and an old lady peeped around the corner.

This is when I introduced myself to Claire. This went rather well, using the “she-didn’t-shoot-me” standard of things going well. Claire thought I was the scooter guy (which it’s quite possible I do resemble a scooter guy), but it turned out I was just a goofball preacher instead. This was okay (read: she didn’t shoot me), but she wasn’t particularly impressed. She probably didn’t even know if I was safe. Heck, neither do I.

Claire told me a bit of her story. She is paralyzed. She is alone. She had lived in a house it took her six months to design to be accessible to her physical challenges. It was swept away. She also informed me that her trailer had not heat and that it had been very cold the night before. And that she was hopeless. (She didn’t say she was hopeless. This much I gathered.) And that I should have been the scooter guy.

I told Claire that we could send some people over right away that could do whatever she needed them to do, but she wasn’t overly excited by that prospect. It would take her a long time just to get shoes on, much less take on my difficult task of managing volunteers at her house. (She may have read that I was unloading this on her now.) But in the end, she decided to take them anyway.

At one point in our conversation I said something I wouldn’t normally say. I asked Claire if she could use a hug. She said no. I have always had this effect on women.

Just before I left, however, just as I had convinced her that the people I would send would be nice people and help her and leave if she wanted them to leave, seemingly out of nowhere she added one final statement: “Okay, you can give me a hug now, but be careful.”

I was careful. I did not step on her mangled feet, or hurt her damaged shoulder, and I possibly didn’t help her wounded spirit. But I offered what I could offer. I offered her human touch.

It’s not much, but at the time, it was all I had to give. And more importantly, at the time, it was the only thing anyone had offered Claire.

3 Responses to “SILVER LININGS – by Al Sturgeon”

  1. Brandon Says:

    Thank you for your comments, and for your seemingly tirelessness in serving your community.

    You’ve done what many of us, myself included, find very reach out and touch our neighbors. With all that you’ve been able to acomplish in your community and with Claire, with the help of God and many volunteers, it is your love and friendship that will always linger with Claire, and it is how you’ve expressed that love and friendship that has the greatest impact on me. Thank you.

  2. DeJon Redd Says:

    Al. Thanks for reminding me what its all about.

    I look forward to more reminders.

  3. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I think I’ve figured it out.

    The adaptibility of the human mind is truly amazing. As mind boggling as the damage from Katrina was, almost more incredable to me was the ability of the people there to adapt to the new reality. When I arrived, about 5 day after the hurricane, you folks at Ocean Springs were already up and running. By the time I left for the first time, about a week later, people were dealing with the situation as if it was business a usual. The “Normal” of just a few weeks ago seemed far away.
    It all makes me wonder how I would react under simular circumstances. I can only hope I would meet disaster with half the grace, faith, and good humor I saw at OC C of C

    BTW I’m new at this Blog stuff. Be gentle with me.

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