It's very easy for me, sitting here in blue-skied New York, to feel absolutely no connection to Katrina. I don't know anyone in New Orleans, I don't own a car so the gas hikes don't affect me, I don't really even have that much vested interest in the state of Louisiana as a conceptual entity. This isn't the sort of thing I care about. I'm far too selfish.
But reading coverage of the storm, and the devastation, and the hundreds and thousands of people whose homes and possessions have been destroyed... this is getting to me. I am sitting at my desk at my job where I am paid to do something that is, at the end of the day, really quite useless. I go grocery shopping. I sleep in my bed. And there are people who don't get to do that right now, because an act of God has torn them out of their daily lives and into a horror story. The worst part is how passive it all must be - in our nightmares, in movies, the action is constant and the disasters are instantaneous. But these people who are trapped in the Superdome (and who are now being transported, trail-of-tears-style, to the Astrodome in Houston 350 miles away) and the folks who are camped out with friends and with strangers and in the woods and on dry ground... they had the action already, and they're now dealing with the horror of the aftermath. Imagine it - you're forced out of your home by a category 5 hurricane and the gushing floodwaters of a broken levee, you make it out alive, and now you have to wait. Just wait. It's a Sartrean hell, watched over by an absent God.
And then you get the people who are trying to find someone to blame. From Salon:
a group calling itself Columbia Christians for Life alerts us to the fact that a satellite image of Hurricane Katrina as it hit the Gulf Coast Monday looks just like a six-week-old fetus.
"The image of the hurricane ... with its eye already ashore at 12:32 p.m. Monday, August 29, looks like a fetus (unborn human baby) facing to the left (west) in the womb, in the early weeks of gestation (approx. 6 weeks)," the e-mail message says. "Even the orange color of the image is reminiscent of a commonly used pro-life picture of early prenatal development."
And in case you're not getting the point, the e-mail message spells it out in black and white: "Louisiana has 10 child-murder-by-abortion centers," the groups says, and "five are in New Orleans."
But why would God single out Louisiana? Other states have many more abortion clinics, and Louisiana and the other states hit hardest by Katrina all voted for the pro-life president of the United States. It didn't add up for us at first, but the Columbia Christians for Life have an answer for everything. God has already punished California with earthquakes, forest fires and mudslides; New York with 9/11; and Florida with Hurricanes Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne and the early version of Katrina.
Part of why we were all able to rally together after 9/11 was because we had an enemy - it was easy to define an "us" when we had a "them" to contrast ourselves against. We gave blood, money, clothing, and time - because in a way, it made us feel like we were doing our part to show our attackers that we take care of our own. It wasn't just sympathy for the victims - there was vindication written all over every action. But there's no "them" to get back at here. There's just water and an empty sky. It's hard to rally the indignation and the fury necessary to take something from our own unscathed lives and give it to people who don't carry symbolic weight. But the truth is, if we can't sustain the "us" even when "them" doesn't exist... we're not much of anything.
Give and give and give.