Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An extraordinary ordinary day

I woke up at 5:59 a few seconds before my alarm clock sounded. I can always tell that I'm sleeping well and feeling well when I wake up just before the alarm. I got up, went into my study room to read, journal, pray, and prepare for my day. I walked Maya at 6:30, read some more, and woke Kristiana at 7:20. A half an hour of exercise was followed by a reminder to the kids to get their chores done before school started. Oatmeal for breakfast. A thorough shampoo and conditioning. I met Steve at one of the malls in the center of town because he'd left an important file at home and didn't have time to come all the way home to get it. While I was at the mall, I bought a pair of running shoes; daffodils are in bloom here so I figured I'd try to start running again and enjoy the beautiful and quiet South Charlotte mornings. Back home, I sat out on the deck with the kids and read to them: some poetry (we are learning about rhyme schemes and different types of poems) and a fictional account of a family taking part in the early western expansion in this country. The sun shone down. Their interest flared up so much that when my eyes began to close in sun-baked exhaustion they pleaded for me to keep reading. We trimmed the bushes around the deck. We swept up leaves and branches. We walked Maya - and I jogged in my new sneakers; they are great. It was a glorious, ordinary afternoon in the Belsito family.

It didn't occur to me just how extraordinary a day it was until I sat down to watch the Oprah Show. Anderson Cooper and Lisa Ling recounted horrific tales of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina as it plays out today, on February 21, 2006 nearly six months after she came ashore. Thousands of people are still homeless. Some live in tent cities very akin to refugee camps in foreign nations. They have no bathroom facilities in their tents; they walk to public showers and porta-johns for relief. One young girl said she is not allowed to go to the bathroom alone. One woman lives in a mostly-abandoned apartment complex in an apartment with no roof. She uses a bucket for her toilet. Displaced families fortunate enough to spend the last several months in local hotels are being displaced again; some have no place that they know where they can live and be safe.

Within miles of the tent-city, there are hundreds of empty trailers owned by FEMA but so far the trailers are unassigned and unused because the registration and set-up process takes so long. Phone calls bring about no change in their situation. Pleading on television seems to change nothing. When word got around that the Oprah crew was filming, an official of one kind or another showed up to answer questions and field complaints.

This blog is not about finger-pointing. This blog is about how extraordinary it is that in the United States of America there is so much suffering so long after the hurricane. It is heart-breaking to think that so many mothers cannot sit and read poetry to their children on their back decks because the books and the deck are gone. Many mothers cannot buy new sneakers because the stores are gone, and their jobs no longer exist - because WalMart and Target and schools and factories and car dealerships and shoe stores and fast food shops and shopping plazas, they are all gone. Piles of garbage, refrigerators with rotting food, acres of ground contaminated with e-coli, hulls of cars, buildings, and boats litter the land as far as the eye can see in some places. Computer games like Oregon Trail and Tiger Woods and Mavis Beacon typing are floating out at sea or crushed under broken tree limbs, door frames, and disease-infested mattresses.

A dear friend of mine was in Mississippi two weeks ago and she asked the same questions Oprah, Anderson, and Lisa asked: how is it possible that so many people are still living in such terrible conditions so long after the hurricane passed through? How is that possible? How is it possible that I forget that there are people living like that all over the world everyday, with no rich nation to help, with no trailers nearby to be put to good use, with no news reports to reawaken my slumbering consciousness? Lord, have mercy on us. Lord, help us to have mercy on our fellow travelers on this tumultuous life journey.

So here I sit at my computer, wearing one of my new denim skirts, some cute striped socks I picked up in Asheville when I went there for my weekend getaway, and a prayer bracelet. Tonight I strolled through the supermarket with Kristiana, waited at the deli counter for turkey, ham, and cheese, and compared the ingredients in two soy milk products. Maya is barking at Steve because she wants to eat what's on his plate. American Idol is on. (For those of you checking my facts: The time indicated at the end of the blog is when I started to write it; I finished well after 8 PM.)It's an ordinary evening in the Belsito house. I hope I will always realize just how extraordinary my ordinary days and evenings truly are.

PS. Tomorrow's Oprah show will be "Move-In Day on Angel Lane." Through the contributions of Oprah's viewers, companies, designers, the rich, the poor, the famous, and the anonymous, Oprah's Angel Network has built, furnished, decorated, and outfitted dozens of homes for families affected by Katrina, and tomorrow those families will see and enter their new homes for the first time. For them, tomorrow will be an extraordinary day unlike any they've known in more than six months.

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