Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina: the terrible and the wonderful

We've all been absorbing the shock and horror of what happened in the wake of the recent hurricane, and we all have similar questions.

The "Where is God?" question always haunts us; but I think more and more this is a catastrophe we lay at the feet of humanity, from choices made by public officials, before and after, choices made by those in the path of the storm, even to the choices made, recently and long ago, about living in a hazard-zone and the civic choices about protection.

People aren't "wrong" for living in areas vulnerable to a hurricane--that doesn't make it "their fault"; my point is that we all make choices and take risks, because that's how life is: a no-risk life is hardly life at all.

But clearly many failed their duty in the response to the danger:

I wonder why a better evacuation wasn't conducted beforehand--why weren't the poor and weak bused out prior to the storm? The mayor of New Orleans said, after the flood waters were inundating the city, "I need 500 buses, man"--but the question I have yet to see posed to him is, "Mr. Mayor, you had quite a few buses available prior to the storm: what did you do with them beforehand?"

We all wonder why more wasn't done, faster, in the wake of the storm--but the more we learn, the more we may understand the complexities. But it sure seems that leadership failed, as well as did many ordinary citizens, who chose this moment of crisis to murder, rape and pillage.

But amidst all the terrible, let us not miss the wonderful. The response may not have been fast enough -- or maybe it was, in some ways, faster than is apparent -- but in any case, the response, if delayed, is still splendid. We may well have failed our own, high standards; but we've exceeded what almost anyone else in the world could do or hope for.

We've seen some demonic (I won't slander animals by calling it "beastly") behavior, but far more heroic, truly human action. Former First Lady Barbara Bush is right to say this horrible experience will nonetheless ennoble many, hopefully all of us.

We've heard the dire predictions about how long, and how arduous, how out-of-reach, the recovery will be; how awful the impact will be on us all.

I predict that things will go better than such expectations: because one thing remains true about human nature, and our own society: we are capable of endless surprise. We will witness marvelous ingenuity, we will see just how hard people will work, how rapidly people will adapt, how resilient we truly are, and how high we can rise.

I like to say that grace is mostly hidden; so it is in this story, too.

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