Sunday, September 04, 2005

World Turned Upside Down

Like pretty much everyone else, I've followed the news from New Orleans with an ever-shifting mix of disbelief, anguish, concern, and outrage. I still can't get my mind around the magnitude of the loss--a disaster of this size is beyond imagining, I believe. Sure, we've seen massive disasters in summer popcorn films time and again... but in some way, that has almost inured us to the real thing.

I've found myself moved time again by the little stories, the human tragedies that I can comprehend. The man who sat despondently by the corpse of his wife, who had died because the medicines she needed could not be acqired. The e-mail from a woman desperately searching for any news about a lost family member--an e-mail that ended with the humble statement that hinted at an underlying ocean of fear and grief: "we are so worried." The photos of parents trying to comfort children whose lives won't return to normal for years. The woman stumbling as she enters a shelter--stumbling because she's looking upwards, rather than at the ground, at the only home she's likely to know for a short while.

But one man's words helped me to envision a bit more what he was seeing. "I was on the roof of a three-story building," he said, "and as far as I could see in every direction, it was like the world had been turned upside down." After that, i went walking this morning, and as I crested a hill, I took a minute to look in every direction, and to try to imagine if the destruction and suffering I saw in those television pictures were repeated over and over again as far as the eye could see. Every house, flooded or damaged or collapsed or gone entirely... trees uprooted... cars tossed about, or standing in filthy water... corpses haphazardly scattered here and there, yet unrecovered...

Hieronymous Bosch could not depict more human misery and suffering than these men and women and children have seen for the past week.

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