Gillian Addison was living in Boston and working on her Ph.D when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, including a hard-hit section of the New Orleans suburb of Metairie where her parents and several other family members were living.
Gillian, who now lives in Baton Rouge with her husband, watched helplessly from afar as strong winds and floodwaters inundated the area where she once lived, and the place her parents and two siblings and their families still called home. The most she could do was to serve as a communications hub as family members evacuated and set out in different directions — her mother to Atlanta and her father to Baton Rouge a day later.
“Nobody in my family could reach each other, but they could all reach me,” she says. “I was sort of like Grand Central to help my parents communicate with each other.”
As her family’s evacuations turned into unexpectedly extended stays away from home, Gillian realized she needed to head south to deliver much-needed supplies — a tall order as a graduate student on a tight budget. That’s when her community stepped in, including families of students she tutored, who chipped in by donating supplies for her family. “A community of people who don’t know each other got me down here to help my family and got me back,” she says. “Basically I came up with everything my family needed — from food to clothing to computers to medicine.”
Gathering the supplies was only half the challenge. She toted four military-sized duffle bags full of supplies, weighing about 100 pounds each, to the airport. “I had way more luggage than you’re supposed to have, but they were of course making accomodations,” she says.
When she arrived in Atlanta, it was clear that transporting the bags from the airport would be a real challenge. But once again the kindness of others helped her through the difficult situation.
An Australian man named Zephyr, a former lawyer turned self-help author who was traveling while on sabbatical, helped her transport the massive bags and waited with her until her family arrived to pick her up two hours later. “In the two hours we were hanging out together, we created this really cool bond that was amazing,” she says. “My family was pretty freaked out that I was trusting this guy to help me with stuff. But I am a good judge of people.”
The encounter was the beginning of a professional connection as well, with Gillian’s story being featured as a chapter in Zephyr’s next book. She also assisted in the editing of the manuscript before it was published. She says that although she’s a natural extrovert, the airport experience has helped her be even more open to encounters and connections while traveling.
“It affected me in the way that I am willing to be open to meeting new people in strange places where people are typically isolated and sheltered and keep to themselves,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve always been that way, but the one time I did say I trust you with all of this stuff I’m bringing to my family it worked out great.”
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