Thursday, September 01, 2005

Before Reality Sets In

I was reading this and realized that I was not the only one thinking that the plaints of the watchers and the do nothings and the ambulance chasers were getting rather irritating considering the situation.

I've been watching the news all day regarding the hurricane relief effort and, unfortunately, listening to a number of people pontificate on this point or that about the disaster, it's causes, what could or should be done, complaints and just general talking to hear themselves speak.

In between that I saw the pictures of the people who were still stranded, who were still trying to leave, who were sick, injured, hungry, thirsty, grieving and lost.

It's always the people that get me. Not the commentaters and pundits, galvanized to make their political statements and forward their cause or justify their position of importance. I mean the people in t-shirts and shorts, wading through the water with their belongings in plastic bags or a cooler. The ones that are crying into the camera about the loss of family, friends, animals, their life and everything that they once knew as normal.

I can tell by the news coverage, the politicos and the punditry that reality has yet to set in. It hasn't set in yet because they cannot see the dead bodies, smell the sewage, hear the wailing or conceptualize what it means for an entire city, once teaming with humanity to be literally wiped from the map.

To be gone, as I noted on yesterday's post, like Atlantis, sunk beneath the water and all it's glories and all it's dark places, quieted beneath gently lapping waves. So far from us that we cannot conceive of the enormity.

I've heard people on the streets talking, some worried, but still unable to comprehend and others that cannot concieve of the magniture either, but picking apart stories on the news complaining about this or that effort or some failure that they conceive has occured. All from one or two stories on the news.

"Did you see that old lady on the bridge? Her husband was dead and the police wouldn't help her move him? They just kept driving by." That was one. They couldn't understand that the man was dead and there were still possibly 100k people to rescue and that, in the list of priorities, the dead were far down the line.

My brother heard this and then joined in the complaints. "Why," he wondered, "couldn't they stop for a minute and help this woman who was obviously grieving? Why couldn't they move the body?"

I said that the living get priority and they are still at risk. At which point, an argument ensued with my brother waving his hands around and jumping from one point to the other, barely related but the same comments that I have read and heard by people on the web or the news. Bush didn't do this. The government didn't do that. Why didn't they call out the army and national guard quicker? Why aren't there more men and people there helping? Where are all the boats rescuing people? It's been three days now. What is taking so long?

Why couldn't those officers take a few minutes and help that lady?

The scope and magnitude of the disaster has not set it. You cannot really explain to someone that that lady and her poor dead husband was one live person safe, who, though having lost her husband, at least knows where he's at and not wondering like thousands of people where their loved ones are or if they are going to survive the next few days as even more significant rescue efforts continue. When it comes down to a disaster of this magnitude, saving thousands of live people takes precedence over a small kindness of moving the lady's husband from the side of the road.

But people here are still in shock. They are like someone who has had their hand cut off and is still walking around looking at the bloody stump, unable to concieve of the loss and what it will mean to him for the rest of his life. His mind still tells him that he has that hand.

So, I just stopped talking to my brother and the other person. Realize that people deal with tragedy in different ways. They want to do something, but don't know what, can't do much and can only watch.

Yet, as after September 11, before anyone can contemplate the enormity, before the living are yet rescued or the dead even counted, the ambulance chasers are on the job. Politicos attacking for not signing the Kyoto treaty; for not providing more funding for this or that; getting their faces on the news and getting their cause du jour out, riding the coattails of disaster, slipping their way to 15 seconds of fame on the dead bodies of thousands.

My disgust, I don't think I can convey my disgust strongly enough. Even if I typed curse words, I could not convey it and just writing that thought seems cheap and meaningless compared to the feelings churning inside me.

Then there is the absurdity. The absurdity of some politicos and news reporters talking about the "big secret" of the "newly revealed" documents concerning Supreme Court Justice nominee Roberts. I did not see the face of the peson, but a woman senator or representative was going on for several moments about how this proves that he was a mysogynist and not a supporter of the poor working men and women, much less an appropriate candidate for the court.

It seemed bizarrely incongruous as I had just seen Alan Shepard on Fox standing in the middle of a highway, surrounded by water for miles around and interviewing people as they waded to dry land, one man saying he had been at it all night rescuing people from home and bringing them there to the bridge. To a place that has no outlet of escape, no water, no food and no shelter, yet they were still alive and still in danger. And there was this person talking about "the big secret".

I heard right wing buttheads and left wing bozos all flapping their lips. Like that long ago time after September 11, I wish them to shut up and just let the cameras roll. The cameras say what we need. The people tell us what is there and what kind of help is being given.

But, I think the reality has as yet to set in.

The reality that 1 million people are homeless. 1 million is a number you cannot imagine being refugees within this country. We see third world countries with refugee camps from 5k to 40k and we are simply overwhelmed by it and how to help their survival. Now we have 1 million.

1 million.

1 million.

I wanted to say that again and again because that is the "reality" that has not really arrived in the minds of those not directly effected. I just keep imagining just what it would be like if Kansas City was suddenly empty and everyone had gone to shelters in the fields and farms out of the city limits.

And it isn't just New Orleans.

This is not last years hurricanes in Florida where the number of homeless were not so great and the death rate was limited. This is more than September 11, but similar in a way because I believe that we will never know the true number of dead because their bodies will not be found or will require long months of DNA matching and it will be for more than the number of people from September 11.

The death toll will rise from the medically challenged that will not receive treatement or necessary medicines because they cannot be reached. Then the disease from those that, regardless of instructions or common sense, will be so thirsty or so unknowledgable that they drink the water anyway. Cholera, even typhoid, will take their toll. The real number of dead will not be final for months if not years.

So it continues. Reality has not set in. Reality is far away and even as I write this, many cannot understand how this little bit, this that we have not yet conceptualized, is barely the tip of the iceberg of things to come. For those that are there, the reality is all too real. Survival is reverting to basic instinct as people fight for a few items that might insure another few hours of living while they wait for rescue. Others have reverted to the lowest traits of mankind, intimidating others, stealing what little they have left, for what, no one can imagine since the city is in effect, no longer existent. They are kings of nothing and like all the others who remain in the city, will soon have to choose between the material things they covet and life itself.

I am not trying to be a voice of gloom and doom. Honestly, I am only writing to put my own thoughts down and I'd be happy if others didn't read it because i don't want to be part of a rumor mill or panic instigation. But, I can't imagine what the next few weeks and months will be like since a major shipping port and transportation lane (the Mississippi) is now shut down for all intents and purposes and may take weeks and months to open to traffic. Goods and commodities will now be even more shipped via truck or railroad, both of which use gasoline, whihc is extremely high priced at this time.

It means that everything we eat and wear will be more costly for the foreseeble future. Gas is nothing.

Maybe, after all, it's better that we cannot conceive of the destruction. It might paralyze us. It might freeze us in the moments we most need to do something.

But I believe that we will survive and it may be that belief among the millions in America that has kept the calm to date. No panic. No mad rushes to the gas station or the grocery store. We are 300 million that surely can take care of 1 million of our family. We took care of thousands after 9/11 and the last hurricane and the tsunami, this is but another activity.

This is, after all, the thing that we do best: pull on the bootstraps, tighten the belt, roll up the sleeves and get to work. We are a country of the free and the brave, where the brave come in all shapes and sizes, the heroes walk among us, anonymous, but to a few. Even the rescued will not know their names.

When the water recedes, the last person is rescued and the quiet efforts to clean and rebuild begin, we will not know the names or the faces of the countless people who have gone, risking life and limb, barely sleeping, just for one more minute, one more man, woman or child that will be rescued. The facelss, nameless and tired will return home to be forgotten except for a footnote in the history pages with the short epitaph, "thousands of relief and rescue teams worked tirelessly to save the people of New Orleans and bring comfort and aid to the citizens of the Gulf states".

Necessity is the mother of invention and crisis is the father of the heroic.

Once again we rise.

Psalm 119:49-51

49Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.
50This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.

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