Pedicure Therapy & The 8 Best Nail Polish Shades To Get Through 8 Years of Disaster Recovery

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Lori’s regular column in The Huffington Post.
Six months after Katrina, I found myself sitting on the front steps that belonged to a house that was no longer there. I was in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, and there were cars up in the trees and complete destruction. It was an unbelievable sight. I had been asked by my dear friend and mentor Billy Shore of Share Our Strength to help coordinate tours of people from all over the country who wanted to see and “”bear witness”” to what was happening in Katrina-stricken New Orleans. By the time I reached the tenth tour, I sat on the stoop, and found myself polishing my toenails. Who has time for a pedicure in the middle of a disaster? My PTSD had clearly set in. I was numb.
I distinctly remember the moment down to the color of the nail polish. It was an OPI brand nail polish color, Belize It Or Not. Which I realize now was ironic, because the definition of “”bearing witness”” is to go to see things in order to uncover the truth. Belize is a gorgeous place, but it probably has the Gross National Product of a one-stoplight town; and here was an American city still looking more like a town demolished in a Caribbean storm six months later. Nothing was left. Believe it or not.
Those people who came to bear witness could not believe it was happening here either. This was long before Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt came to New Orleans. So these people flew down to take pictures with their Blackberries (iPhones weren’t a thing back then) from inside a bus in the Lower Ninth Ward. There weren’t even any people living there: these people were just taking pictures of abandoned and demolished structures, and I kept polishing my nails.
Eight years have passed, and I have never seen those people on the bus again. My mentor Billy Shore has dedicated his life to bearing witness to spread greater awareness of hunger and malaria, and has achieved remarkable things through his work.
But what about Katrina? Who will bear witness for the RECOVERY of people who have been through natural disasters like Katrina? And Sandy? And Oklahoma? What do the people who come down to bear witness to these disasters do? Is this water cooler conversation with their pictures? Does it change them as individuals, as Billy Shore would say? Have they spread the word to help us through the last eight years?
I found myself on many buses, in seminars and conferences, and once again painting my nails and overhearing conversations. It all sounded like other OPI colors. I Forgot My CzechbookBerlin There Done That. They talked about Lessons Learned. If I hear one more conversation about Lessons Learned, I’m declaring it one of my favorite nail polish colors:It’s All San Andreas’ Fault.
Everyone wants to bear witness for social change when disasters first happen. This gets mistaken for voyeurism, which is the fault of the media, who endlessly cycle destruction video in order to draw in viewers. I think someone should come up with a disaster channel: disasters all day, every day, with no uplifting stories. Such a channel would generate extraordinary ratings and advertising revenue.
But the people who came to New Orleans were not voyeurs in my opinion, though many in the disaster world argue otherwise. Voyeurs are people who take joy from observing the sordid or scandalous — the media coverage is usually enough for them. They are, in my opinion, rubber-neckers. They wait until the disaster hits, and get a thrill from observing the event. The media perpetuates this, because the media isn’t interested in everyday injustice. Meanwhile, I give kudos to anyone willing to actually get on a plane and come down.
But bearing witness can’t simply be about the aftermath of a catastrophic event. It’s about everyday poverty; it’s about everyday injustice; it’s about everyday racism. If people want to bear witness, they should bear witness every day to understand how the underprivileged live and work. I bet they can do this in their own backyard.
And if you come to bear witness, you can’t forget your checkbook and to share your privilege. Bearing witness is a window to empathy, it’s about seeing and physically placing yourself in the environment where others are living so that you can go and better report and spread the word. It is a way to inform and correct ignorance. The last OPI color any of us want you to use is I Don’t Give A Rotterdam, it isn’t my fault or problem. The nude OPI color Passion is a much better color for the busy hands of people who serve. We want you to have empathy. It just needs to be directed appropriately. “”Smart compassion,”” as USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information would say. “”Strategic and effective giving,”” as the Center for Disaster Philanthropy would say. “”Peace, Love, and OPI,”” as OPI would say.
It’s time to roll out new shades to bearing witness. Bare-ing Witness, perhaps, a nude tone?Recovery Rose? Or how about Service Warrior? I would buy that color in a hot second: traveling with my mentor Billy Shore and taking those compassionate souls that came down to see the destruction remains the most rewarding thing I have done in the disaster space. I’d love to hear from all those people on those many tour buses again.
These days, I’m painting my nails with A French Quarter For Your Thoughts?

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