We are at a certain hotel in south Louisiana. It feels a little like we’ve walked into, even imposed upon, a little community. I knew in the back of my head what we were coming to – a south Louisiana still reeling from the flood, with no rental cars or hotel rooms to be found. Luckily for us, we had reserved both months ago. But once I got here, I forgot, and commented that this hotel was a little bit strange. A bit unusual. I noticed people grouped up outside just hanging out, lots of dogs coming in and out, and folks unloading bags of groceries and home supplies as if they were staying for the long-haul… Oh wait, they ARE staying for the long-haul.
These are the precious ones displaced by the flood, the ones who have moved their kids and possessions into a hotel room to wait. To wait on home restoration, on a contractor, on the next paycheck, on a new house. While they’re waiting, they have formed their own community here at this hotel, bound together by proximity as well as commonality. They gather to drink beer outside, their group increasing in number as friends pass by and stop for a drink while waiting on their laundry. They linger over the packaged hotel breakfast because, after all, this is their home and the people who can identify with them are at the next table over. They come to and fro with dogs, groceries, and toddlers. The hotel staff are friendly because these hotel guests have gone from the-ones-who-dirty-towels to constant and familiar faces, maybe even friends. And people are friendlier to me, because for all they know I might be the new neighbor, brought to them at the hands of the same tragedy. How circumstances can change the culture of a place.
“My gosh. I forget that America has tragedies and refugees too,” my friend said when I told her about this community. Don’t forget. But at the very least, I think the tragedy of the flood has done something good to the culture of this hotel. I’ve never felt happier to feel like an outsider. I love getting a look at the strength and beauty that can emerge when humans are brought together.