New Orleans: Pins and needles


Easter Sunday has brought me back to New Orleans. I had volunteered for a week in November, and this time, I managed to bring some friends old and new with me.

I can build on one of the most meaningful experiences of my life by sharing it with others in person. As it’s happening.

I am blessed.

mug-commonroom.jpgCelia, Michele, my old friend Mike and I set out from Alabama this morning to start our Magic City Mission. We met for the first time just 11 days ago to form our Hands on Birmingham team.

We crammed ourselves into the pickup cab, while the bed was loaded with supplies and gear generously donated by Birmingham citizens. Each of us took turns supplying tunes for the road trip, sharing our likes and dislikes along the way.

Around Meridian, Miss., the adventure really began when we circled back to Wendy’s to retrieve a runaway cell phone.

Having only been gone five months, I found a welcome set of familiar faces from my previous visit at Hands on New Orleans. Staff and long-term volunteers greeted and helped unload the truck.

We arrived in time to share in a lovingly prepared Easter supper feast. And the four of us were caught off guard in the intros to the group: name, hometown and question you wish someone would ask you but never has.

Mine? “Why haven’t you jumped into bed with me?”

Maybe you just had to be there. Maybe you should be here: You’re missing out on a unique experience.

Except that it’s no longer unique. As we arrived, so did a woman who drove for two days from Minneapolis, freshly divorced and looking to focus on others rather than the pain of recent days.

And then two more groups showed up. Looks like the shelter that seemed somewhat empty at 5 p.m. will have quite a few more volunteers to gut houses and put up support beams tomorrow.

We walked to St. Charles — well, Kristen, a kindly staffer drove us most of the way — to Igor’s for a well-deserved drink. Not that we had achieved anything other than showing up and claiming bunks.

Soon, we found a corner to cut loose, blast Hank Williams Jr. from the newfangled Web jukebox and have a round on Mike. And C. once again regaled me and a new audience with tales of prison life. Including the baby oil story.

It still tickles me.

And while the other team members are still finding their way, it feels like I never left. The program has evolved, members have moved on, and Hands on New Orleans will finally settle into a permanent home soon. I found out our playwrights Adam and Caliope got engaged and will marry here in August.

I so love this place and this city.

But when my pal Zoe asked if I would ever uproot and stay in New Orleans, I said no without hesitation. Because I love Birmingham, and I want to help it, too.

It’s my home and maybe always will be.

The U.S. map near the kitchen in the church that houses us has pins representing volunteers’ hometown. It pained me that Birmingham had two pins during my last visit (I couldn’t find one to mark me as the third pin).

We’ll add our pins this week, and two more when others come on Thursday. And we won’t stop until Birmingham is a mass of pins, the plastic points of light who came back to New Orleans to rediscover the good in the people here and in ourselves.

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My guide to New Orleans


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