I have tried for three days to write about the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and what is going on right now, and I have not been able to. I have literally been struck silent. Silenced by my shock. Silenced by my anguish. Silenced by my outrage.
I must push through this silence and write.
I have always had an ability to feel empathy for others, a habit of imagining myself in the life of another. That is part of what compels me to write. But how can I possibly understand how a mother feels when she has run out of formula and has nothing else to feed her baby? How can I understand the desperation that leads a person to break into a store and steal food because there is no other option? How can I understand what it is like to climb to the attic in hopes of escaping the rising water only to discover I've climbed into a trap? How can I know what it is to wait for days for the government and the people of this country to help and have no or little response? How can I know the nightmare of living through the hell of the hurricane and an even greater hell of the aftermath?
The media has made a great deal of “these people” living like animals. I remember when they first showed a clip of people looting a store and coming out with diapers, food, etc. I thought to myself, Why are they shaming these people? Why are they showing these people’s faces over and over? How dare they shame these people who are left with only an instinct for survival! And the media is still (shamefully) showing this same clip three days later.
I would ask the media: How would you expect these people to act in a situation like this? Do you expect them to politely and quietly die? Do you honestly expect the people who are desperate to feed their children, or their elderly parents, or themselves, to sit outside a store full of food and not DO anything? Do you expect the people who have been in 90 degree weather without water to act like they've been invited to a tea? And let's be honest here, do you expect the drug addicts and alcoholics, and yes, they are there among the crowds too, to sit demurely on their cots as their bodies are screaming for another fix? This is human nature pushed to the extreme. How dare you sit comfortably behind your news desks and call them animals. Show them some respect.
This is not say I understand or wish to excuse the violence, the raping, the murdering. I don’t. Because there is the rape of the ten-year-old girl. And there is the murder of the store owner who generously opened his store. I feel anguish these acts, and others, have occurred and are occurring right now.
I have felt some guilt over my own tears these past three days. Do I have the right to cry when I sit in a comfortable house with my family all safe and healthy near me? Do I have a right to feel empathy when I have such an inadequate understanding? After some thought, I have determined that my tears, my empathy, are what make me human like them, are what may connect us in the end, and are, finally, what pushes me to help, even when part of me judges my help to be insignificant.
List of Relief Charities
- Originally from Vermont, I now live in North Carolina. My work can be found in recent issues of REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, and Pank, among others, and forthcoming from Gargoyle #57 and REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. For two years I worked as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. Currently, I serve as a mentor for Dzanc's Creative Writing Sessions. I'm working on two novels and a short story collection. In May, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the 2011 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.