His skin, darkened with dozens of scattered tattoos; the man’s eyes illuminate his face like shoreline torches.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Do you know where the groceries are?”
His red shopping cart carries a mix of items lacking any obvious pattern, much like a store clerk’s return cart.
I point to the left.
“Take a left, then a right,” I said. “Anything, in particular, you’re looking for?”
He leaned down on his cart.
“Well, everything, I guess,” he said.
This time the melodic cadence of his words hinted he hailed from a distant locale.
“Hurricane Ida took our home, cars and everything back in Louisiana. Fortunately, I have the wife and kids put up in a hotel here.”
“I’m sorry to hear,” I said. “God bless you.”
“Hey,” he said. “We can replace the house and cars. The important thing is we’re all safe.”
He mentions he works offshore in the oil industry, saying he could live anywhere. But to him, his family was what matters.
He nervously moved the wheels of his shopping cart back and forth. Maybe antsy or maybe an adrenaline hangover from outrunning a catastrophic hurricane with your family tucked tightly under your wings.
I wonder if the shorts and T-shirt he’s wearing are pretty much all he owns on this day.
We say our goodbyes, and he points his cart to the left, the front wheels leading him off.
Hurricane Ida serves as another vivid reminder of why living on the coast is not all sunshine and butterflies. Mother Nature, occasionally, sends us a powerful reminder of her wrath and fury.
Mother Nature is a beast. In my adopted hometown of Galveston, the Great Storm of 1900 took the lives of more than 6,000 people, many washed off the island as the seas retreated. Likewise, New Orleans is where Katrina came ashore 16 years to the day before Ida arrived.
Yet, New Orleans and the people still live in many ways as if Katrina is the present.
I walk around the corner to another aisle.
Seconds later, around the end, comes the familiar red cart.
“Hey, what are you looking for now,” I ask.
It is then I realize what it meant to lose everything.
“A dog leash. We left so fast I didn’t even grab one for the dog.”
I point him in the right direction, and his cart leads him away.
The phrase “losing everything” is by design meant to be vague, like the massive canopy designed to obscure the details hidden beneath. No scrutiny gets in, and details never get out. Like passing a car accident, details are left to us to fill in the blanks.
But a dog leash is one granular detail to which we can all relate. Everything is, literally, everything. The things you can think of and those you can’t. Everything hidden beneath the canopy is gone. And with many of those items, our self-identity or memories.
May God bless all those in the wake of Hurricane Ida.