I suppose there is nothing I can say about the devastation in Louisiana that won’t sound trite. I’m going to say it anyway. Disasters bring out the worst, and the best in human nature. We are drawn to the nightly news because we can’t look away. We are spurred into action by the sight of so many helpless people. “There but for the grace of God…” we sigh. And we get out our checkbooks, go through our pantries and closets, offer to organize the telethons. Why? People starve every day. People suffer every day. People die every day. Why do we care so much when a hurricane or a tsunami strikes? Ah-h-h, the numbers. We care so much if thousands of people starve, suffer, and die. I’ve always found that fascinating. And I admit I’m as guilty as the next person. Why do I overlook the person right down the street who doesn’t have enough to eat or a car to drive or shoes for her children, but hurry to help if there are a hundred people in the next town or state or country who are in the same situation? I think often about the book “Pay it Forward”. Such a great concept- truly help three people and ask them in return to help three others. Why don’t we do just that- every year, every month, every week, every day?
I’ve come to the disturbing conclusion that it often has to do with blame. If my neighbor or someone in my community is in dire straits I often blame the victim because I know them. You can wipe that shocked expression right off your face because I know you’ve done the same thing. If Joe Smith is in trouble and you know he’s mishandled his finances or you know he’s been smoking all of his life or you know he’s mean to his children or you know he’s a terrible driver you’re likely to gasp and sigh over his current misfortune. You might pray for him. You might loan him a couple of bucks if you really can spare it. You might even sit by his hospital bed. But in the back of your mind you’re thinking “well he brought this on himself” or “this is just the consequences of his own actions”.
Somehow we forget about consequences if hundreds or thousands of people are in trouble, especially if they are far enough away and we can blame “nature” or an “enemy” for their plight. Then we can jump in and help. We can work up a little enthusiasm for our fellow man. We can organize food collections and telethons and blood drives. We can step away from our ordinary selves and do extraordinary things. The OKC bombing and 9/11 taught us the capacity of the human spirit to create joy and love out of hate. They proved to us that life goes on and people endure. They proved to us that we can indeed make a difference in the world. The real question is why can’t we do it all the time, for all the “little disasters” and the “quiet tragedies” of everyday life? I wish I knew.
I’m proud of the people who help with disaster relief. I’m happy to help with whatever I can. My husband is helping deliver water next week. I’m sure our school will be collecting change. Our church will be gathering supplies. But what will we do when this crisis is over? What will we do when people go back to work and school? What will we do when New Orleans is a city once again? I hope we don’t just go back to our lives and wait for the next disaster. I hope we continue to help people in our own state and county and town…even if there is only one person who needs our help.