You wouldn't know about me unless you have read some exposition to get a sense of who I am, what I do, where I live -- that sort of thing. Problem is, I don't know the answers to those questions anymore. They no longer satisfy me; they are not solid in my mind. Everything around me is a blur, and all nonessential sounds are stilled. I don't give a crap anymore that I am bankrupt and live in the middle of nowhere in Texas. I don't drive. I'm far from family and my nearest friend is miles away in cyberspace. I go nowhere and do nothing except to my job as a medical transcriptionist. I am an ordained Zen Buddhist clergyperson without a congregation, an almost vegan, and a photographer, not necessarily in that order.
The cause of the confusion: Hurricane Katrina.
Before Katrina hit, I was a whiny chick from New Jersey who didn't feel at home in Ruralplace, Texas. After Katrina, I was reminded that I did feel at home in a place I'd never been: New Orleans. My cells yearned for it as much as for H.E.B. Pecan Pie ice cream. Maybe it was the food. Maybe it was the jazz. Maybe it was the fact that some of the greatest writers in America lived and wrote in New Orleans.
I loved the accent. I loved all that laissons les bons temps rouler carrying on in spite of whatever. I loved most that it was an eccentric city, diverse as all get out.
The idea of New Orleans had so enthralled me that I chose to go to college there. If I had been born rich, I might have ended up at Tulane, but that was not to be.
Now it may never be again. But, my heart, once called, still answers. And the sadness washes over me like the spill from the breached levees.
It was one of the first times I'd ever seen poor people like me, or worse than me, on TV, in the United States. Ever notice how you don't see real poor people on TV? The news kept emphasizing -- when they weren't obsessed with people looting (big surprise: when people are desperate and poor, they tend to steal things) -- that the poorest of the poor were unable to evacuate. They didn't have cars. (If they had cars they wouldn't have been able to afford the gasoline.) There was no public transportation. They didn't have enough friends or resources to help.
Not very different from yours truly!
As George C. Scott, playing General Patton, observed, "This is me."
No boundaries! The self does not exist!
George Scott/Patton understood he was Sun Tzu and Alexander the Great, and it dawned on me that I was in that water grabbing those Pampers from the Wal-Mart.
How could I not grieve for my own demise? How could I not bide with lump in throat, hoping for my own survival?
It was as if my entire being was one festering wound and someone tore the scab trying to form right off. Though I was intellectually a halfway intelligent, well-informed, well-intentioned human being, I was sheltered and clueless. I also understood that everything about me didn't matter one iota faced with the barbarism that is basic inhumanity.
When faced with suffering, one must act to end it. Period.
This could be you, it says. Hell, it is you. Tomorrow. Maybe the day after that. You don't know.
This is how it happens: the barrier breaks. There is no longer me or them.
The myriad cries of the world become one keening, frightened wail.
I would not put my hands over my ears.
There always would be very little that I could do to relieve the suffering in the world. I could pray. I could pepper cyberspace with pretty pictures to gladden the heart. I could send any errant dollar to the appropriate relief organizations until I died. I could, with heart in mouth and more prayers coming, continue to vote for human beings who might have a chance to run the rascals who don't give a damn about their neighbors out of office.
I could pay homage to the world washed away. The husband made a wheat gluten etouffée in remembrance. The recipe was all in his head -- where memories of the place reside.
It ain't about me and never was. It's about getting up in the morning, keeping on and doing what needs to be done, even when the floodwaters of human evil threaten to overwhelm the levee of the human heart.
Foot before foot, may the strength of our hearts carry us down the path to do the work that looms before us.
A man must know his limitations. -- John Milius
Indifference is a weapon of mass destruction. -- Dennis J. Kucinich
Please donate to Katrina/Rita relief: www.networkforgood.org.