So one of the hardest parts I've found about doing volunteer work, is returning to everyday life. On my first big Habitat for Humanity trip to Guatemala, I met a woman named Colleen. She was amazingly bright and funny and she worked in Afghanistan with women and also worked for Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. She was telling me about how it would be hard for me to go back home and adjust especially since I would return right before Christmas time, but she looked me straight in the eye and told me, "As cold as it may sound, when you live in the "real world" or when you go back home, you have to switch the channel in your head. You cannot live in one world feeling sorry for the other because you'll drive yourself nuts!" As cold as it sounds, it was so true, and this is how I've mentally handled the devastation I've seen. Although it changes you and although you constantly think about it, I've learned how to not feel guilty for doing things like buying a new digital camera, or so I've thought.
I've spent two weeks in New Orleans within the past few months, both times I worked with Habitat for Humanity in the rebuilding process. Both times were amazing, and I will never forget any part of it. And for the first time, however, the transition back into everyday life has been tough. I mean it always takes some getting used to, but it's been real tough. Well now I thought I had gotten back into the swing of things, not that I don't constantly think about how many days I have left until I go back there, but I had stopped thinking about what I could be doing now, and started thinking about what I did and what I will be doing in the near future. Then out of nowhere, comes this surprise attack.
Last Friday was July 4th. My whole family headed for the Jersey Shore like we always do, and we all went to my Uncle's house the night before because there was a big fireworks display at the Harrahs casino. He lives right on the bay so it was a perfect view. So I was standing alone on the dock watching the fireworks which were awesome in every sense of the word, and all of a sudden I felt so incredibly guilty. All of a sudden I felt so emotionally guilty for not being in New Orleans and simply stand there enjoying this horrendous display of obsene wealth. I tried to talk myself out of it, but I was just so overcome. I have never felt that guilty for doing something in my life. I just couldn't stop thinking about all the people I had met in New Orleans, and how many more there are and how much help they need. I think it was also the fact that July 4th is a celebration of America, a country which I don't believe deserves a lot of pomp and cercumstance especially after we are forgetting about the Gulf Coast. Also, I looked around at my family who was so joyous and so unaware of the situation in New Orleans, and I was mad, irrationally mad at them.
I finally got a grip on myself, and realized that it was silly for me to get this upset over fireworks, but it just made me think about New Orleans even more. I don't know what came over me but it was irrational and upsetting. This city has simply changed me, and wrapped it's hands around my heart. I have never had a place effect me like this before, and I am curious how spending a year there will effect me. As cold as it sounds, I will continue to try and not feel guilty when living my life in NY, and so far it's been good, although I do not forget about New Orleans for a second, and I am counting the days (currently 33) until I will once again return to this city.