I left New York two days later. I arrived in North Carolina on a sunny afternoon in the aftermath of a hurricane. The clear, cloudless sky seemed to mock the devastation nature had inflicted upon the land. The wrath of God, I thought grimly.
I worked in construction for six weeks, part of a massive effort to rebuild what nature in its fury had destroyed. Hundreds were homeless, living in shelters set up by the Red Cross. My work took me from Kitty Hawk to Cape Hatteras, working in every small town in between. I slept in shelters or on the beach, saving every cent I could for the inevitable, the time when I’d have to move on. I attended a local church near Kill Devil Hills for a time, but found myself disillusioned by the hypocrisy within the congregation. I went back to studying my Bible independently, sitting alone in the sand along the beach. I often asked myself if it mattered that I was doing this for the wrong reasons as long as it got the right results. Did God care, one way or the other? If there was indeed a God, had He abandoned mankind? If not, where was He now? Why had He allowed so much pain and suffering to go on in this world? One had only to read the newspapers or watch the evening news to see war, crime, famine, disease, homelessness everywhere.
On occasion, I saw it right in front of me.
I came upon the scene as it unfolded: an elderly woman had been evicted from her home. All of her belongings were piled up along the curb. She was clearly distraught. All around her, human scavengers were digging through her things, taking whatever they wanted. No one was trying to stop them or do anything to help her.
“Hey!” I shouted, running toward them. “Get away from there! Leave her alone!”
The people stopped what they were doing. Most of them departed, but some refused to give up the things they’d helped themselves to. I approached the old woman. “You all right?” I asked. She looked like she might collapse. I could tell she’d been crying.
She shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she mumbled. “I got nowhere to go and no way to move this stuff, what’s left.”
“Don't you have any family?” I asked.
“None that care about me,” she said sadly.
“How long have you been out here?” I took a bottle of fruit juice from my backpack and gave it to her. “Have you eaten?”
“No. I was making breakfast when the sheriff came,” she said. “They made me get out. Threw my eggs out, I think.”
“Have you been out here long?”
“Since about eight this morning.” She looked toward the door, toward what had once been her home. “The people who have stopped, they didn’t come to help, just to take what they wanted.”
“Nobody’s tried to help you?” I asked.
“Only you,” she said sadly.
I noticed a car slowing to a stop several yards away. A little girl who looked to be about eight years old climbed out and grabbed a large stuffed flamingo. “Hey!” I yelled, running after her. “Drop it!”
The child, terrified, dropped the flamingo. She climbed into the car and it drove off. “What are you people teaching you kids?” I shouted after it.
“Leave it alone!”
I turned. The elderly woman was trying to stop a man three times her size from taking her washing machine, but he was ignoring her pleas. I ran back to her. “Hey, buddy—that’s hers!” I shouted.
“She got put out—she ain’t got no rights to nothin’!” the big man argued. “Now get outta my way so I can get this on my truck.”
“You’re not taking it anywhere,” I snapped.
The man turned to face me, towering over me by a good six inches and at least a hundred pounds. “Yeah? You gonna stop me?” he challenged.
“As a matter of fact, I am.”
“This ought to be good.” The man looked amused.
I thought of David and Goliath as I drew back my fist and lashed out with as much strength as I could muster. I imagined the worst as I connected with the other man’s jaw.
The giant hit the ground with a thud.