On the anniversary of The Hurricane (oddly enough, my best friend's first name is Katrina), it's important that we remember some things we may not want to. We have to remember that although 3000 lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, more than 200,000 have still been unable to rebuild theirs. It's estimated that approximately half of New Orleans' population has yet to return to the city. Although the families of 3000 people, including 300 safety officers (firefighters, police officers) were instantly changed by circumstances out of their control, at least they've had more than a fighting chance at putting their lives back together. Millions of dollars given by individuals, corporations, and governments, has been distributed to the surviving families and anyone affected by the attacks, with some families becoming instant millionaires. In comparison, poor families displaced along the Gulf Coast, are barely surviving in FEMA-provided trailers. Their neighborhoods are still littered with debris. Dilapidated houses, with corpses still inside, still stand. It took months for debris from the World Trade Center to be removed.
I'll probably take some flack for what may be insensitivity. Please don't misunderstand me. A tragedy is a tragedy; loss is loss. I can't imagine what it's like to see a loved on in the beginning of the day, only to never see them again, never hear their voice, see their smile, feel the warmth of their hand, by day's end. I can't imagine what it's like to wonder where they are, walking the streets looking for them just as families of 9/11 victims did just hours after the towers fell and families of Katrina victims did, walking around the New Orleans Superdome. The posting of names and pictures, with cell phone numbers of seekers. The anguish of finding out someone has perished before help became available.
I remember my one visit to New Orleans to work a convention at the very Convention Center that became home for thousands. Obviously, it was a different place then, lit festively, decorated with products for sale and Christmas promotions. I walked the streets of the French Quarter imagining what it must have been like to hear jazz in dark rooms. I tasted gator for the first time, much to the amazement of the colleagues I was traveling with (it didn't taste like chicken, more like swordfish). It was hot, steamy. I can only imagine what the steamy heat was like with pressurized, stormy air filling a house while water is rising around you like a plugged sink. I remember taking the PATH train from the World Trade Center to New Jersey, taking what seemed like an endless escalator from the bowels of the earth to the street. I remember the first time I got lost in the World Trade Center complex, looking for my train in 2 WTC, only to end up at 7 WTC. And I remember loving the massive towers of steel and concrete. I remember walking across the Manhattan Bridge on September 11, 2001 to get to my Brooklyn home, turning my head to watch the billows of smoke shrouding lower Manhattan. I'll never forget the look on the face of my dear Telios when I turned the corner onto our street. I can only imagine what a mother separated from her child by rising flood waters, or a firefighter's wife must have felt when they were reunited after hours of uncertainty.
Every life has value and we have to treat every life as valuable. Is it more appropriate to spend money fighting a war abroad that's supposed to help people rebuild their lives or to send that money to help people rebuild their lives here? Is it more important to spend five years trying to create a memorial that makes every surviving family happy (which won't happen) or to get a neighborhood cleaned up after a year?
Let us not allow our local pride, wherever we may come from, blind us to the value that we all have, wherever we are.