Sunday, September 04, 2005

My Bit

Long before I became a scientist, I learned a more basic kind of skepticism from my mother. She would tell me to pay more attention to what people actually did than to what they said should be done. It's not enough to say you're a Christian, a Socialist or a Communist (common where I grew up), and to talk movingly about the suffering of the poor or the working class, if then you do little to help any actual people around you. On Friday, my wife reminded me of that lesson, when she told me that it was all very well to criticize George Bush or the federal government when we weren't actually doing anything to help the victims of Katrina.

So yesterday we took some clothes to the Salvation Army, and then spent the afternoon volunteering at the Houston Convention Center, where one of the large shelters for victims of Katrina was being set up. I spent my time in a long line of a hundred or so people passing bags of clothes from the entrance (where they were dropped off by a steady stream of locals driving by) into a huge pile inside the Center, where other volunteers sorted the clothes. I did this for over 4 hours stopping only to take a few quick gulps of water now and then. It was easy work, although I couldn't keep my eyes open by 9:30 last night (~3h early) and today I feel as if I played an unfamiliar sport for a long time. My wife spent her time playing a different kind of "sport": making beds.

The experience was humbling in many ways, and not just because there was nothing two scientists with PhDs were obviously "good for". The amount of donations was enormous. I believe that, at some point, people were told to stop dropping clothes off, because we were no longer able to process them. We were obviously an insignificant part of a huge operation that, despite much confusion, did manage to achieve something in the end.