All right, I may be exaggerating. But it was the first time I was living away from home, and I had little money as a first-year chiropractic student near Atlanta, Georgia.
The only thing I knew how to cook was rice and beans, which I would boil together, add salt, and, half-gagging, literally force down twice a day. I would eat this dish outside on my second-story apartment stoop.
One day while choking down my lunch, I noticed an Asian student walking into the apartment across the way. He was carrying a grocery bag overflowing with wonderful-looking exotic vegetables and spices.
Every day after that, as he'd go walking past my perch, I tracked his movements with the eye of a lean wolf, waiting for the right moment to make my move.
I don't remember the moment I finally introduced myself to the Asian student, whose name was Antoine, but I'll never forget how abruptly my life changed for the better.
I went from being half-starved on prison gruel to suddenly finding myself feasting twice a day on lavish Vietnamese cuisine. Tantalizing soups, hot chili dishes, sautéed fish (head and eyes intact) would be laid out before me and Antoine's two lucky roommates both at lunch and dinnertime.
Within two weeks, I regained the 10 pounds I had lost since moving from under my parents' wings a short time earlier.
Much more than this, despite my less-than-admirable motives for introducing myself to Antoine, I quickly formed a bond with him that has lasted nearly thirty years.
Antoine was not only a great cook, he was also wise. Indeed, my new friend had a depth unlike anyone I had ever met. I would learn his wisdom and spirituality had been gained early in life, a result of having survived wrenching relocations to France and later to the U.S. to escape the conflict in Vietnam.
Having lost my sister to cancer when I was sixteen just two years before, I immediate felt Antoine to be a kindred spirit. Over the years, his wise counsel would become a major part of who I am. His sage words to me when I was in my early thirties and coping with my father's slow demise from cancer allowed me to regain the depth I thought I had lost.
In my book, "The 9 Insights of the Wealthy Soul," I recount many of the conversations I had with Antoine and all he would reveal for me. Now, years later, another major event has imposed itself on our friendship.
After we graduated from chiropractic school, Antoine settled down to practice in New Orleans. For five agonizing days after the devastating hurricane hit, I had no word from my friend nor his family.
I finally located him in Houston. Though safe, his life will never be the same. He and his family have lost their home, the clinic he spent 22 years building, and their two beloved dogs.
Though greatly anguished by the TV images showing those suffering so horribly in New Orleans--people who had been his friends and patients--my friend nevertheless seemed to be taking it fairly well. I realize now that he was in shock, which prevented the full magnitude of his loss from hitting him.
I called him every night, trying to keep him bolstered. But on the fourth evening, he suddenly was non-responsive to anything I said. He barely could confirm that he was still on the phone with me.
When I hung up, I felt bereft. Having spent my childhood experiencing the six-year slow loss of my sister to cancer, I knew what grief was. And I had spent my entire professional life helping patients overcome a variety of physical and emotional challenges. Yet I hadn't had the words to comfort my friend.
When I woke up the next morning, I began writing him a letter. I wanted to crystallize my feelings and what I knew he was feeling. There's something very powerful, very validating, about acknowledging another's pain. Especially when you do it in writing. And even more so, when you follow it with a ray of hope.
It was while writing that letter, that I got the idea that it might be extremely beneficial for people to be able to write similar letters of love, hope, and support to the hurricane survivors. I thus created a website, LettersToKatrinaSurvivors.com.
With Antoine's permission, I've posted my letter to him on it. Even more importantly, you can post your own letter there expressing all your hope, love, and support for the survivors.
Beautiful letters from around the world can be viewed on this site. I would ask you, dear reader, now to add yours.
Let us all show Katrina's survivors the nature of light to illuminate the darkest of nights and the ability of love to conquer even the most devastating of hurricanes.