No disaster in my lifetime equals that statement. I have met people whose relatives survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which leveled the city and forced its inhabitants to life across the bay while the city rebuilt. There were far less of them and the toxins we were able to produce 100 years ago less deadly. My mother's generation lived through the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the effects on the nation were the most pervasive from such a single event, but the town operated around their loss. The 9-11 attacks almost brought New York City to a standstill, and greatly changed how our lives went forward from that day on, but the city remained and could pull together and rebuild.
In this case, every resident of New Orleans will be dispersed somewhere else, and many may never have the wherewithal to return. It is hard to predict yet how much of the city will be rebuilt and what kind of character it will have when resurrected. It is almost beyond my thinking to absorb how many people will be affected and in what ways -- where will they all live in the meantime? how will they start over?
I have worked in the public sector most of my life, as a teacher, and then this summer working for two small non-profits. Both of these non-profits live on the edge financially. The medical clinic serves 80% of our resident population and a raft of tourists who suddenly find themselves ill or in an accident. Being essential has not been enough; we have also had to be resourceful and continually search for funding. The same is true with the children's center program I recently assumed directorship of; the program has had trouble with cash flow from the beginning and is too small to access much of the grant funding out there. I drove home from work last night trying to think of ways to save money in my own budget and create more padding in my life, just in case one of my jobs can't pay me on time this fall.
However, after watching the latest scenes of devastation in the South, I went to sleep grateful that my life is so safe and easy in comparison. This disaster is our tsunami, as trite as that sounds, and I hope that our country can pull together in much the same way as people did last December. One phrase I heard repeatedly from news reporters was "We are facing a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions in this country's history". We are all lucky to have avoided the political turmoil other countries have faced in the past, leading to mass movements of people trying to be safe. However, now we have possibly over a million people in our own country who face long-term displacement as a result of a natural disaster.
I am never sure how many peoples lives I touch, or who actually reads my blog, but in this instance I am hoping I can influence a few other people, because I think there are three important steps each of us can take to help ease this crisis:
1. Make a donation to the American Red Cross, today, this week, however small. They are mobilizing the largest relief force they have ever mounted and do an excellent job. My brother-in-law David served as a relief worker last year following Hurricane Ivan, and states that the Red Cross is in the best position to manage such efforts, but this will certainly tax their reserves. Then, figure out what you can do without for the next month, and make ANOTHER donation at the beginning of October... they will surely need it. Maybe it will be going out to eat, movies, clothes, wine, maybe even yarn, but we all have the resources to live well enough for a while on less, and divert some of our resources to help others get through this crisis.
2. Pray, meditate, whatever it is you do personally, do it now, with all your might. We are powerful in numbers and our energy needs to be directed towards helping. The fact that National Guard services need to be applied to stopping looting for more than essential food to eat is appalling to me when people are still stranded on rooftops. Our culture obviously needs more healing energy directed towards its ills.
3. Cut back on driving and help the country manage on the gas available. There must be some place you don't really need to go, and you will be helping us all keep being able to afford to do what is essential. This particular disaster differs from other events in that it has the potential to place a huge burden on all of us, as gas shortages may be inevitable and prices are only going to go up. Yes, our culture needs an AA program for our gasaholism, but the situation resulting from the damage from Katrina may go down in history as something more like a "cold turkey" program than entering a rehab facility. If you have been thinking about getting a hybrid electric car, now may be the most opportune moment. For me, this third point will probably mean no cruising in the back woods this year, and no trips this fall... I was able to sign up for a work-related training I need to take online instead of traveling to a remote city in the Midwest, and can probably dodge a few other such meetings and events as well for a while.
Lastly, not a numbered point or part of any program, but just a message from my heart to yours, be sure and hug the people you love and be extra thankful today for being alive.