The Smile Project Road Trip challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. It also inspired me in ways I couldn’t predict. I’m still feeling the reverberations of the adventure in every day moments where I find myself seeing the world a little differently.
I was in my parent’s kitchen a couple weeks after I had returned when I heard a clip from the Weather Channel in the other room. There was flooding in Mississippi. I stopped in my tracks. I thought of the family we stayed with there and walked into the room with the television.
A few days after that, there was more news of wildfires breaking across Oregon and Washington. I knew I followed that path. What about the family who lived on the farm and gave us fresh strawberries for breakfast. Were they effected by this? Were they hit?
When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans in 2005, an 11-year-old me (forever fascinated by natural disasters) watched the news and the weather channel but could not fully grasp what was happening. When earthquakes struck or flooding happened or volcanoes erupted, I found myself hurting for the affected citizens. But if I’m being really honest with myself, I don’t think I truly understood.
Wildfires have been ripping across California. It’s extremely easy for California to feel far away from me. Once I confirm that my cousins and friends are safe, I can almost breathe a sigh of relief – as if there aren’t still hundreds or thousands of people whose lives will be altered forever.
We drove through New Orleans. We saw where the flood waters came. We were in a smoky Yosemite – a couple of days before they closed the park entirely. But it’s more than that.
We made friends in Houston. We worked with people in Oregon. We have memories in California.
These places are no longer places across the country. They are homes. They are family.
That’s why flooding in a town in Mississippi that I had never heard of worried me. It didn’t have to be where we traveled. And I didn’t have to know someone there. I now understand – more than ever – how every place is someone’s home. Every city has people who live and love and every town has memories that live in sidewalk crevices.
To everyone everywhere: Stay safe. I’m thinking about you.