Monday, September 05, 2005

Questions, alligators, and fever...

I am so glad that the hungry ones have been fed, the thirsty ones have had water, and the sick ones have been moved to hospitals in other cities. It is good that the desperate and homeless have been transferred to other cities where the children will be able to go to school, the parents will begin to find work and housing, and the millions of Americans who watched helplessly as the situation worsened will finally be able to lend a hand, get personally involved, and make a difference. Finally, we get a chance to do something important, something compassionate, something human - after a week of nothing being done for so long and watching an inhumane crisis unfold before us. I am so glad.

But all is not well with me. I am still angry. I am frustrated. I am incredulous. I am confused. I still have a lot of questions. What on earth were they thinking as they stole televisions at a time when there was no electricity? What on earth were they thinking when they raped, killed, and assaulted other desperate, hungry, and newly homeless people? What could possibly be gained by shooting stolen guns at police officers and others who were trying to maintain order? And where are the thieves, rapists, and murderers now that the city has been evacuated and its trapped residents have been relocated to cities and towns all over our nation? Will they ever be brought to justice? Will anyone ever be brought to justice for the travesty, the tragedy that came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? For the people filmed running out of stores with diapers, baby formula, band aids, soda bottles, potato chips, and candy bars, is the judgment and the punishment the same as for those who stole television sets and dozens of pairs of sneakers? Would I have done any differently if I were there with my hungry, wet, dirty baby in my arms? Would my husband have entered those stores in search of sustenance for us?

Still I am glad because of the conversation around the backyard picnic table at a neighbor's house last night. As we sipped wine and beer, ate burgers and hot dogs off the grill, we talked about the horrors of last week. One of the women who was there works for the Red Cross. The good news was that over $100 million had been raised so far. We were all thrilled to hear that. The bad news was that staging areas with food, water, shelters, clothing, and other supplies were set up in neighboring counties on Tuesday and Wednesday, but that they weren't allowed to enter the area. She wasn't exactly sure why, but they were denied access. Some said it was because of the looters and gunslingers. Some said it was because access was severely limited. Some said it was because there wasn't a coherent plan of response and rescue. If The Red Cross was there and set up, why would anyone hold them back? If the media was there, set up, and moving freely throughout that downtown area of the city, how bad was the access? If hundreds of people could simply walk out of the city on the local highways, with feet bleeding, with hearts broken, and with souls deeply woulnded, why couldn't supplies be walked and carried and carted in?

Anyway, last night we talked about the race issue, the class issue, the fact that so many of our soldiers and tanks and other large pieces of equipment aren't available at the moment due to engagement elsewhere. We wondered what will come of this horrible situation in the weeks, months, years, and elections to come. We didn't resolve anything. We couldn't make much sense of any of it, but it was good to talk. It is necessary to talk. Wonder. Question. Consider. Pray. Help.

I spoke to a dear friend who lives in Vermont, and the questions flowed between us ceaselessly. Will New Orleans ever be rebuilt as it was? Should it be? Will poor people be able to live there in the future? Will neighborhoods be built that encourage community and togetherness, or will there simply be more huge houses on fortified compounds, affordable only to the super wealthy? Who will be chosen as contractors to clean up and rebuild? Who will profit from this great loss? What will happen to the thousands who must make entirely new lives in new places? How long can people be housed in public arenas before they are evacuated yet again? Where will they live? How will they live? How long will the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the generous people of this great nation be able to feed and clothe them? What about the many thousands of people affected by the storm whose faces will never be seen on television, whose personal stories will never be told, but whose losses are equally complete? What will happen to them? What will happen to our entire nation? And what if another hurricane strikes within the next two months? Hurricane season doesn't end until November.

Everyone is relieved that most of the residents of New Orleans and other affected regions have finally been brought to safer places. But many hazards and dangers remain. Alligators swim freely in those fetid waters. As do poisonous snakes. Human waste, trash, and debris leach their own toxins into the environment. Abandoned pets are now living as rabid animals on the loose. There are still people trapped inside their homes who await rescue.

And for those of us residing in safe, dry, unaffected homes, there are still alligators in the water, poisonous snakes swimming around in our souls. In our hearts. I've been bitten by the toxic snake of rage. I've been pulled under water and rendered helpless by the vicious jaws of cynicism, distrust, skepticism. The venom of rabid fear and worry surges through my veins as well. But I am praying for the antidote of forgiveness, of love, of tender-heartedness to kick in soon. So far this morning, I've journaled a little, read a little, taken a walk with Steve to the tennis courts, played a few games of tennis with him, and had a glass of ice cold water. I feel the fever breaking already.

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