Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Katrina Plus One

A million thoughts crowd my head. I have recently viewed a documentary on the catastrophe in New Orleans—it has been almost a year already—and still cannot wrap my mind around all that has occurred and continues to occur in that once beautiful region. (How does one comprehend the incomprehensible?) Sadly, in August 2006, we have moved on. Last year at this time, Americans viewed the disaster transpiring in the Gulf with fascination, then horror, then anger, then despair. And because we could do nothing—or felt we could do nothing—or because we had our own lives to deal with, we let go, we forgot. The suffering of thousands of our fellow countrymen drifted from our thoughts, and we moved on. But those people are still there; the destruction and the madness are still there. They have not vanished because we have left them behind; they have merely taken refuge in the shadows, in the darkness, just out of sight. There is a hungry wolf at America’s doorstep, and he will bide his time, watching, waiting until we are too weak to stop him.

This unspeakable devastation in the Gulf region will not let us be. It is a part of us; we have all suffered because of it, and will continue to suffer, though we may not recognize it. For though we have looked, we have chosen not to see, and so the deep harm we do to ourselves as a people continues. There is poverty and hopelessness and despair in this country though most do not ever come in contact with it. Most of us live our lives carefully shielded from the poor and the desperate. Hunger and homelessness and racism do not exist, so we do not have to deal with them. And so, on it continues unabated. But this comfortable myopia will not protect us; the wolf is there yet, and the day of reckoning will come.

The Italians and the Dutch have built levees to protect their great cities. We have not, I believe, because Americans lack the reverence for the past Europeans seem to possess in abundance. Though every bit as greedy, selfish and materialistic, the people of Italy and Holland have not forgotten from whence they came. As citizens of their countries, they have a shared history that is an important part of who they are. And so they do what it takes to preserve this past, and to protect the people who guarantee its future. As individualistic Americans, it seems we lack the will to even comprehend such notions.

Americans have enjoyed 200-plus years of wealth and prosperity, and we have yet to acknowledge the horrific pain and suffering we have inflicted in order to achieve our standing in the world. Many hundreds of thousands have died—directly or indirectly—because of this failure to come to terms with our bloody past. America is and always has been a forward-looking nation. That is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness, for until we understand our history and value it—both the good and the bad—for the lessons we can learn from it, we will not respect the culture we have spent these 200 years building.

No nation can survive if it does not value its past or its people. As Americans, we have allowed terrible damage to be done to our national consciousness by the many acts of callousness, greed and neglect displayed in the hours, days and months following Katrina. We have allowed our fellow Americans—citizens of this country—to be treated like cattle while we looked the other way, pretended we did not see. Our souls have been corrupted by the promise of the future, and we have forgotten to live with and love each other in the present. It will take years—perhaps a lifetime—to repair the damage done to New Orleans. But buildings can be rebuilt; they are just material things. I wonder if, as a people, we will ever possess the will to repair the gaping wounds we have inflicted upon our Spirit.


The people still need help--desperately. To contribute, please visit Network For Good for a list of charities assisting Katrina victims.

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