Friday, September 02, 2005

The Lost City of New Orleans

Perhaps someday people will think of New Orleans as a mythical city like Atlantis, long buried in a watery grave. That is what I suspect, even though the talking heads have been prattling about "the rebuilding schedule." It'll be DAYS before New Orleans is back on line (they assured us Monday), perhaps WEEKS before the lights go back on (they breathlessly informed us on Tuesday), even MONTHS before the city reopens for business (they prognosticated on Wednesday), mmm, likely YEARS before life gets back to normal (they suggested Thursday.) By early Friday morning, for the first time, I heard someone mention "a decade." Okay. Let me save you all the trouble. It might not come back. Ever. And even if it could, perhaps it should not. Not where it is. Not in the absurd configuration of a City in a Bowl. Not the way it was. You can't duplicate that kind of history without making it into a Disney-esque hyperbole of what people remembered it to be. Accept it. New Orleans is a city that once was. It is not to be again. I'm getting a little fatigued watching and reading the news reports. It is not Compassion Fatigue. The stories still move me, the pictures still wound me, the misery still astounds me. Each night I go to bed and thank God for my comfortable bed, my safe house, my fresh water, my plentiful food, my uninterrupted electricity, my functioning plumbing, my access to incredibly expensive gasoline. Because no matter how much it costs, we HAVE it. The people in New Orleans have nothing. Nothing worth having. What they have is suffering. There's plenty of that to go around, and it is growing by the hour. I watch in horror as people trapped on rooftops for days are afraid to come down because of the roving armed gangs of looters. Families waiting on interstates for buses that take forever. Children with quivering lips, living the nightmare parents always assured them could never happen. The elderly in their wheelchairs, waiting patiently for help that never comes. Patients dying for lack of food, medicine, fresh water, oxygen, shelter from a blistering sun. It is an apocalyptic scene, and it scares me to think such suffering is going on all over the vast city, in hidden corners away from the cameras that are attempting to document it all. Government leaders seem to spout nonsense, assuring us that help is on the way, that the people are "resilient," that the situation will soon be under control. What kind of poorly thought out disaster plan didn't account for an impoverished population that had no means to flee an unfolding catastrophe, and no place to flee to? An imminent Category 5 did not trigger free buses? There was no agreement with other communities on setting up temporary refuges for the tens of thousands who had no money for a hotel? The shelter of choice for the sickest and most infirm was the SUPERDOME? Did planners actually sit around a coffee urn and discuss any of these details, or did they find the scenario too depressing to even address? I want to scoop up all these suffering people and deposit them somewhere, anywhere, that can help them. I wonder why it is taking so LONG to deliver even the most basic of supplies. I worry about the children, praying that their parents can keep them safe until help arrives. Word has just gone out that the Astrodome is closed to new refugees. They are at capacity. Where next? The Kingdome in Seattle? The Silverdome in Detroit? The Kingdom of Heaven, perhaps, if someone doesn't do something soon? The devastation is unprecedented, the losses incalculable, the suffering unimaginable. And the suffering is not limited to New Orleans. There are refugees all over parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. People without electricity everywhere, and gas in short supply. Will people get their back their homes, their jobs, their lives? For many the answer is no. It has been said Mardi Gras has been canceled for next year. However Lent, the 6-week season of penance that follows it, will surely go on as scheduled. Come to think of it, Lent began on Sunday. And we have no earthly idea when it will end.

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