Alyssa Sellers

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Super Storms Suck

June 2006 ~ Cameron, La.~ My Hurricane Rita Relief Team

It’s 9:30 PM Monday, October 29, 2012 in Portland, Oregon and I can’t stop checking Hurricane Sandy coverage. It’s bringing up quite a few emotions.

I cried at the first image I saw of water flooding a street this afternoon. It was of a street outside a friend’s work studio in Brooklyn. It is seven years after the horrible hurricane season of 2005 and still I cry. Recovery is a slow sneaky process.

Weather is an equalizer. I’ve traveled through almost every state in this nation and I’ve noticed that we are all shockingly different.  And while we are all different we are all equal. Many of us have a devastating weather story, or two, about the great ice storm, flood, mudslide, wildfire, blizzard, sand storm, tsunami, or hurricane. Every storm is super to the one who lost a love one, community, home or experienced some level of damage.

Weather happens. And it sucks. Flooding sucks. Wind damage sucks. Rebuilding is work and sweat and tears. I know. East Coast Residents, you have hours, days, months and years to come that will be filled with various levels of sadness and frustration from many sources, including insurance and FEMA. The good news is, the likelihood of any one claiming that you should abandon your particular neighborhood and not rebuild is slim to none. So you’ve got that going for you. That’s probably a tad snarky and unfortunately that snark is a direct result of what I learned from my two super storms: weather can bring out the worst in people, turning them into insensitive jerks who say and do mean, spiteful, uncompassionate things; sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

But more importantly, I learned that weather can bring out the best in people. Thousands of volunteers helped out my small community, most of whom knew nothing about us. Humanity never ceases to amaze me.  So, as I go to bed tonight, I hold you, East Coast folks, in my prayers. A handful of you I know by name and have shared many a laugh with. Most of you I know absolutely nothing about but, I want all of you to know that I am sorry this is happening to you. I want you to know that you are loved, even when it doesn’t feel like it. You are not forgotten, you are not abandoned. Your hurt is real and valid but it won’t last forever, I promise. Although, I can’t guarantee it won’t sneak attack you occasionally.

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Little Things

I am back on campus as a community advisor for a Christian group at Portland State. Some days, probably like you in your work and daily lives, I have no idea if what I’m doing makes any sense.  But I’m here, trying to figure it out. The “it” being how to care for this neighborhood and love like Jesus does. Love without condition, with patience, with hope. I wrote a memoir that is yet to be published and in one chapter I talk about bringing a team of people down to my hometown after Hurricane Ike to love it like Jesus does.
Cameron, Louisiana ~ March 2009

It’s March 2009 and if culture is defined by details, Cameron’s is abandoned. Folks are back sooner after Ike than Rita so buildings are already cleaned, gutted and being rebuilt, but spring weeds covering derelict ruins leave the impression of abandonment. Prior to our arrival I’d asked Mom to find a place where we could beautify the town. Hurricane Café, a local eatery operating out of a trailer, was located on the concrete slab where the Post Office once stood. There was a 12 foot bed there that hadn’t seen flowers in over three years. Across the driveway there was a matching bed in front of the Bookmobile that was serving as the temporary Library. Our goal is to clean out the beds and put in flowers in four days.

After two major storms these beds hold a number of surprises – pounds of broken glass, four square foot sections of broken brick walls, busted wood and more. Our team of five adults and two preteens keep at it. For a brake, we attack the weeds up and down the empty spaces on Main Street. The string brakes on our weed eater so I walk down to Marine Supply to get more.

“Are you with that group cleaning up down the street?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where y’all from?”

“Oh, I’m originally from here. I’m Paul and Cyndi Sellers’s daughter.”

“I thought you looked familiar. You look just like your mama.”

“I get that a lot. I live in Portland, Oregon now and I brought some friends down with me to help clean up.”

“Well, it looks real nice, what y’all are doing. Thank you for coming. It really means a lot. Y’all coming down here and all.”

“We’re glad to help.”

We aren’t building a building or doing some other grand act. But we are here, doing the many small somethings they haven’t the energy to do and that means a lot to people. Care is sometimes most evident in the details.

So, it’s March 2012 and I’ve planted myself here, in Portland, Oregon, doing the small somethings, trying to show that I care.