When the planes crashed into the World Trade Towers in New York City and I watched as the towers came crumbling to the ground, there was a curious detachment underneath the shock and horror I felt, sitting there, huddled into a ball on the sofa in front of the TV. There were a lot of people dead and a lot of people scarred physically and emotionally from what happened, but through it all it never once touched me directly. No one I knew was there; no one I knew had any friends or family members who were there; no one I knew saw it through any other means than the Internet or the TV. The only time I was ever in New York was quite possibly over twenty years ago and we were only there a short time. My impressions were that it was large and gray and dingy and I was glad to not have to stay very long. So I can easily go back to that city and never know that anything had changed. A few buildings turned to dust, a few thousand people killed, but in another few years there will be new buildings there and new people working in them and as time goes forward it will be easier and easier for all of us to relegate the whole thing to a rather unexpected and unsettling memory.
I write that, not to belittle the tragedy of 9/11 because it was a tragedy, a horrible, awful tragedy, even as it opened our eyes as Americans to the simple truth that we are not immune; even as the rest of the world offered their condolences while whispering behind their hands 'it's about damn time you had to live like the rest of us live, never knowing the next time the terrorists will strike. I write this because this is how this particular tragedy impacted me; or perhaps more because this is how it did not. I have no more qualms about getting into a plane than before. I have no more fears about being on the top floor of a skyscraper than I normally had (being someone who is a wee bit afraid of heights, I doubt I'd have ever been willing to go to the top of those towers anyway, planes or no planes).
And so here we are, dealing with another national tragedy, except that this one is, on the scale of tragedies when measured in sheer dollars of devastation and numbers of people who will be impacted, and again, no one I know has died or been lost or impacted. But this time it is different. This time I *feel*. It's not just the vague pity and sorrow for a group of strangers who died far out of my reach. It is the sheer horror and shock at what is going on in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. The tragedy, in this case, is not the hurricane; no, Katrina was only the catalyst. The tragedy is how this dismal excuse for an administration has reacted to the aftermath; how this administration blithely cut funds and ignored the desperate pleas for money to fix the problem before it happened; how the administration pretends it was never warned it could ever have been this bad, and how the administration seems callously oblivious to the fact that a national disaster is growing with virulent strength near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and all they can do is suggest that perhaps it is the fault of all those people who stayed that they are now in danger of being drowned, starved, dehydrated, infected with cholera or other water borne illnesses. Why should they, the administration, be required to care about tens of thousands of people who were so poor that they had no way to leave the city, who still have no way to leave the city, and who are facing devastation and horrors we smug Americans think only happens to people in third world countries, but never our own? The head of FEMA thinks we should just blame the victims. After all, they were 'stupid' enough to stay behind. And underneath it all is the underlying message. Why should they give a damn about the ones still left behind? Or perhaps, more appropriately, why should they give a damn about the poor?
Richard and I talked about what we would do if we were in this situation, on the flight out to Atlanta. We have two cars at home, and a nice house, and if there was a hurricane warning in our area we, at least, have the means to pack up the cats and some essentials, and go somewhere higher, drier, safer, to wait it out until the worst had passed. Even if our home was destroyed and our town with it, we have insurance, and the means to rebuild. We are educated and possess a wealth of skills that look nice on a resume. My company has offices in various parts of the country; if we, for some reason, had to relocate because California fell into the sea, we would still be okay. It would be hard and frustrating and stressful, but the important thing is that we would be okay.
There are thousands of people in New Orleans that do not have that comfort; that did not have it before the hurricane and the horror and the flood, and most certainly do not have it now. And I wonder - what will happen to them? Even if they somehow rebuild the city, sinking levees and casino barges and all, will those people ever be okay again? And my heart aches for them; for all of them. I will have no more fear of water and of floods and of high winds and hurricanes than I ever did before any of this happened. But unlike September 11, I do not think I can so easily put this behind. The current administration is quite possibly one of the worst things that has ever happened to this country. They proved it with the way they have 'handled' this recession by tossing money in the form of tax cuts to their rich cronies while cutting services to those who needed them most; they proved it with the way they threw us into a war based on nothing more than big fat lies; they have proved it yet again by the way they have so callously mishandled, so far, the situation in New Orleans. Every time I think they cannot sicken me any more, they prove me wrong.