The Humbling Storm

humbling stormThe deluge that’s transformed New Orleans from a steamy celebration of Gothic cool into a living hell in which the dignity of the surviving human beings has been obliterated reminds us that nothing is more powerful than Nature. The drowned and the dispossessed, the starving and the ill, are residents of the United States of America. This tragedy isn’t occurring in Sri Lanka or Indonesia. It’s happening in the richest country on the planet.

How obscene that while most of us count our carbs and whine about rising gasoline prices our fellow citizens in the Gulf Coast are desperate for food, water, and medicine. In a land of unthinkable plenty, how is it possible that anyone should have nothing?

Marxists will point to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and adduce the natural conclusion of capitalism, but what’s happening in Louisiana isn’t theory. It’s terribly real.

The finger pointing has already begun: Why weren’t the levees shored up more effectively? Why wasn’t the evacuation order given earlier? Why did thousands of residents ignore the warnings? Why did God let this happen? All — well, most — of these questions will be investigated and answered in the coming years. But for now, while civilized society devolves into lawless anarchy and a Warehouse for the unfortunate desperate struggle to merely survive, a general feeling of impotence grips the distant observer. We can give to charities, construct Hope Boxes, stock food larders, loan a bus. But we can’t make the encroaching sea go back into the Gulf, where we believe it belongs. We can’t bring back the poor people trapped in their flooded attics. We can’t magically pump the swollen canals, fix the sewers, or restore electricity. We can only wait.

Assigning fault or blame isn’t useful at the moment. Nor is it helpful to dismiss the disaster as inevitable, simply because New Orleans is built on a very disadvantageous spot. (So is the entire nation of Holland.) What’s crucial is to give life back to a dying city. That can’t be done quickly — or even slowly, it seems. And that sickening fact should humble every soul who lives in the wealthiest country on Earth.

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