I've had a rough summer dealing with the deaths of my sister and mother. For a man who has only recently been working to understand his emotions, this has been a crash course in grief.
That said, my losses are nothing compared to the losses from Katrina and the shameful aftermath. There are no words muscled enough to carry the bone-cracking weight of this tragedy.
There may have been events where more people died, but there has never been an event in our history where so many people have suffered so much and have had to carry so much grief. The images of dead bodies bursting in the heat, children raped and killed by armed gang members in the Superdome, mothers who have no idea where their children are or if they are alive, children who are so overwhelmed that they cannot speak their own names to rescuers, thousands of people left for days without food, water, or hope at the convention center -- all these images are our American Tragedy.
They are also our shame.
Leaders, both local and federal, had four days' notice that this storm was coming. Much more could have been done. Bush and his administration stayed on vacation for the first three days of this horror. Parking lots full of school buses that could have been used to help the poor get out of the city were left to be flooded in parking lots. Military personnel who prepared for this tragedy were left unused. A military that can mount a major offensive in far-away lands within forty-eight hours could not get into New Orleans for five days. FIVE DAYS! Is this not America?
I am angry that so little was done and that it was done so slowly. I am angry that our leaders were so ill-prepared for an event many have been predicting for several years -- including former Vice President Al Gore in his book, Earth in the Balance.
More than angry, however, I am moved by the generosity and compassion so many of the survivors showed each other in circumstances none of us can truly imagine. They dealt with the horror of being trapped in the Superdome amid piles of garbage and human refuse, human bodies and human waste, death staining the air with a stench that would make you vomit. And yet these people, most of the ten thousand trapped there, showed each other the greatest compassion imaginable.
How unfortunate that it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to bring out the true nature of human beings. We are people of love, not hate and not violence. We are people who have soft, tender hearts.
My heart has been made more open, more tender, more human in witnessing the compassionate actions of the survivors of the greatest American tragedy we have ever known.