Today, I find myself wishing a hurricane here sooner; our need for rain is so desperate. The trees are dropping leaves everywhere, and lawns look like scrub brush in the desert. I woke up happy to see that it was cloudy for the first time in weeks.
Then, I pulled up the radar on Hurricane Hanna and saw that it went right over New Bern, NC, where my grandmother lives, when it hit rainfall, and suddenly, my perspective changes. Is Granny alright? Did someone check on her? Should I call? It’s all in perspective most of the time, I guess.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, it was a massive disaster, outweighing the death toll from the Sept 11th attacks by almost double and causing massive amounts of damage to the homes of individual families, not just corporate or government buildings. Let me be very clear and say that the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and the crash of the plan in Pennsylvania were immense tragedies; they are the memories that will be seared on my brain so strongly that I will tell my grandchildren about them. But somehow, the violence of those attacks and perhaps also the fact that they had a clear source, made them more visceral, more visible, more long-lasting than the loss of lives and livelihoods in the Gulf Region after Katrina.
I wonder why this is . . . why is it that so little memory remains in the greater American society about Katrina? Why is it that, even now, as the 7th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches in five days I feel a great weight in my chest when a few weeks ago we passed the third anniversary of Katrina and I didn’t even react? I can’t even remember the date that Katrina hit New Orleans.
Certainly there’s something here about how the tragedies happened, where they occurred, at what rate. But is there something also to be said about who was affected, who suffered, how long-term the suffering is in a physical sense? Do we not want to dwell on Katrina because we can’t clean it up as quickly, can’t truck all the debris away, can’t commission great architectural memorials to cover the vast hole of several miles that still sits in New Orleans and in other communities on the Gulf?
Somehow we seem to be a people who like our disasters to only be memories, not continuing realities that we must cope with, grieve over, and grow on. . . We seem to want things to go away so that we can remember them, not live them.
Of course, in some sense we are living 9/11 every day because of the wars we’ve fought in that day’s name . . . but here we take action – wrong action in my opinion – but action nonetheless. And we do it publicly, at least the parts we’re proud of. But in the Gulf, even as Gustav barreled down on the region with rain and wind, we simply talked of the evacuation. We had a few news stories; a few “heart-warming” moments . . . but nothing severe, nothing intense because we haven’t put that tragedy behind us yet. . . not yet . . . but we will.
To be honest, I see the same thing happening with the occupation in Iraq (and yes, I think it’s an occupation) and the battles in Afghanistan. They have gone on too long; they have required too much of our sustained attention. They have gone from spectacle to reality, and we are losing interest.
Instead, we still flock by the thousands to stare at Ground Zero, gaping at the performance of our loss. Something seems wrong with this picture.