I’m back from New Orleans, where thousands of people are now living the lyrics from Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”:
“If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life and I had to start again with just my children and my wife.”
Since my return, friends continue to ask what it was like in New Orleans. In answering the question, I’ve tried to offer the following small-scale model.
Imagine what it might be like if an electrical short ignited a fire in your home and you suddenly lost your all your possessions.
If you’re reading this column from your comfortable breakfast nook, you’re likely the kind of person with enough means to have a good insurance agent who will quickly process your claim.
Then you will check your family into a hotel and wait for the folks from your community to bring food and clothing.
In time, your support system will help you recover.
But in the case of a massive disaster such as that along the Gulf Coast, your insurance agent won’t be answering the phone because either he or she is too overwhelmed with calls from other clients or they have lost their homes.
Your church probably has a monstrous hole in the roof and your pastor, wondering about his job, is too busy contemplating the question of why bad things happen to good people.
In the meantime, your job, oh wait, what job? Your place of work is under water.
And forget your neighbors, family or friends. They’ve suffered the same losses. And even if you happen to know where they’ve evacuated, you can’t call them because everyone’s lost their cell phones wading through chest-deep water.
It’s not just your loss you are struggling with, but the exponential force of losing your community. The social fabric, hasn’t merely been ripped, it’s been incinerated.
And that’s an inkling of what it’s like for thousands. And as I write this, Hurricane Rita threatens to add more to my example.
I hope this illustration contributes some small understanding of what it’s been like for storm victims, because only as we gain understanding can we hope to fulfill the commandment given to us by Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Without that understanding, our feelings take the easiest path — the blame path.
We blame people for not evacuating soon enough. We blame the government for not helping quickly enough. And with the blame, we create the perfect escape pod and lose our personal responsibility to help.
Blame is easy, helping is hard. But help we must.
I urge all readers to set aside time this week to make a plan to help with Gulf Coast recovery. Massive fundraising is needed along with long-term commitments of manpower.
Your plan may be the difference in whether or not the people of the Gulf Coast will be able to finish the Greenwood song and sing:
“I’d thank my lucky stars, to be livin’ here today. ‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom, and they can’t take that away. And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”