Five years ago, I realized America wasn’t as perfect as we pretended. Five years ago, I realized America wasn’t as concerned as it should’ve been. Five years ago, I realized America wasn’t as loving as it should’ve been.

Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. After much preparation and evacuation, the city stood…damaged, torn, crippled…but it stood. And then the levees…and all hell…broke loose on the city’s poorest, oldest, and most vulnerable. For five days, people went without food, water, and sanitation.  People who were grateful for security and survival turned desperate and discouraged…they became determined to survive by any means.

The media coverage of the suffering was painful to watch, yet impossible to turn from. Remember seeing the wheelchairs with dead bodies parked on street corners? Do you recall the desperate faces of mothers holding babies too weak to cry? What about the tears of New Orleanians who watched friends and loved ones suffer and die from treatable medical conditions?

I remember. I remember my eyes swelling with tears. I recall being disgusted that our nation’s leaders ignored the desperate pleas of their people. I know without a shadow of a doubt that my heart crumbled that day.

I remember walking out my job, sitting on the curb in the parking lot, and staring at the sky. My heart ached. “Why? How could You? What now? What can I do?” I tried really hard to pray. But what words to do say when people…humans…in the greatest country in the world…are suffering…and dying…dying deaths only expected in third world war zones.

“Peace, be still! Peace, be still! Peace, be still!” Those were the only words I could pray. I remembered when Jesus was on the boat in the midst of the storm, He spoke those words and all chaos stopped. I needed the chaos to stop; New Orleans needed the chaos to stop; the world needed the chaos to stop. Eventually, it did, and we all stood still…then we all began to help.

I learned a number of valuable lessons through the pain I witnessed during the days after Hurricane Katrina. The most important of these lessons was that government will fail us, but our fellow man won’t. When everything was falling apart and political leaders were too busy arguing on television, it was the average man who stepped up to save New Orleans.  It was people like you and me who donated the supplies and money needed. It was our churches, businesses, and celebrities who arranged to have supplies transported from all over the country. It was our college students who sacrificed their spring breaks to rebuild homes in the city.

The next time tragedy strikes, the next time our security vanishes, the next our government fails us, let’s not fail each other. I pray the lessons learned from the storm and the spirit of volunteerism brought forth by Katrina continue to inspire us to be there when our brothers have nothing left but us.