One Day at a Time

By Sara, Age 18

Day one: nonchalant, day two: excited for change, day three: scared and confused, day four: complacent, optimistic, and intrigued as Hurricane Katrina bombarded my city.

Hours passed with my mind in turmoil, but finally I reached a state of peace within myself. No matter what this storm brought, as long as my family and I were safe, my life could move on from any challenge. As I look back now at the optimism I possessed that unforgettable day, I wonder where it came from, but then I realize that in the life that I have led, surrounded by love, encouragement, and little exposure to adversity, there is no foundation for pessimism.

In one sense, I was naïve. Things went terribly wrong. Thousands of people were stranded, hungry, and even dead, and my life was turned inside out. My senior year was seemingly ruined: there would be no senior weekend, no homecoming, and my final cross country season as captain had vanished. More upsetting was the certainty that I wouldn’t see many friends or teachers for months, and that for the first time in my life, I would live in a new city and attend a new school. Additionally, I was now placed in the unfamiliar role of victim. This feeling was most pronounced when friends from Florida donated clothes and toiletries to my family. Accustomed to helping my family collect such items for the Salvation Army and being on the giving end, I felt uncomfortable receiving such charity, especially when I saw the dire circumstances of Katrina’s other victims. I then turned to other unsettling feelings, such as questioning whether I would feel comfortable being myself in a new place. With a past inclination towards shyness in new situations, I worried that the self-confidence and self-satisfaction I had finally achieved at age seventeen might waver in a new environment.

On the other hand, my optimism wasn’t completely unjustified or ungratified. After we had finally settled in our seventh lodging in the span of a month, I looked back at what I’d experienced and forward to the future and realized that I am very fortunate. While Katrina has been a catastrophe for many, for my family and me it has merely been an inconvenience. Memories of sleepovers, games, and laughter are all that exist amidst the gutted shells of many of my friends’ houses while my home has been left untouched. There have even been benefits to our situation. Although we had always hoped it would be in the mountains of Colorado, my family got the chance to live in a second home amidst the hills of Baton Rouge! I’ve made new friends, experienced new teachers, and developed a fresh routine. More importantly, I have been given an opportunity to truly appreciate what is most important as I feel pangs in my heart for my friends and our senior year, while material items now seem like trivial luxuries.

I would be lying if I said this situation isn’t hard. However, with so many people who are struggling, I feel a sense of guilt for my luck, optimism, and the opportunities this situation has presented me. I like adventure, I enjoy taking risks, and while this isn’t the change one hopes for in life, I know that this experience has made me stronger. As I travel back to a very different New Orleans, and then on to college, I will carry with me an uninhibited optimism as well as the capacity to approach the inevitable: change. Day 78: enlightened by new experiences and confident as I look toward the future.