A tale of two realities

Writing from Ohio, on our way back home from the east coast. Said a tearful goodbye to my son (my tears, not his) and we all now begin a new journey.

The week has been almost surreal in its contrasts. Every day we were on a beautiful campus, sparkling clean and prepared for the arrival of new students and their parents. Every evening we went back to our hotel room and turned on the television and watched the devastation of Louisiana and Mississippi.

During the day we were part of a well-planned community that was opening its arms to a new student class and the families of the new class. “Community” was a word we heard frequently in the orientation sessions and it appeared they tried to live it out, even in the hospitable movement of the one thousand people gathered for these sessions from one venue to the next (“we want to move in community,” said the hosts). During our hotel time we watched people moving--or not moving--in chaos.

The sessions at the college focused heavily on the behavior standards set for their students and the goal they had for each of them to strive for excellence and live in service to others during their time at the school and in their lives thereafter. The coverage on the television dwelt on the failures of responsible parties, the consequences of poor planning, the lawless behavior of some.

In the dorms, parents were busy carrying in bags from Target, K-Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond, and IKEA, filled with the necessities their sons and daughters would need living away from home. Some lucky students were carrying in televisions and DVD players, luxuries for their home away from home. Video coverage on CNN in the evening showed a woman covering her face as she ran out of a store with her stolen feminine hygiene products and a man without covered face running from a store with a brand new television.

In the dining hall we were fed wonderful meals, with all the water we needed--even coffee, tea, lemonade, iced tea. In the evening we were reminded that people south of us had no food or water.

On the last day of orientation, the auditorium was filled with students who would make up the class of 2009. The room was electric with joy, promise, potential, and hope. Scenes from New Orleans that evening spoke only of despair.

I cried when I said goodbye to my son but they were the tears of a good parting, a blessing on him as he begins to construct this next adult phase of his life. The tears of Katrina were tears of total loss, final goodbyes.

My husband and I have been quieter on the drive back home than we thought we’d be. Our world, and the world, is different than it was even one week ago. Lots to think about.

Other reflections and comments about our trip to follow.