What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Valuing America’s Families

 Valuing America’s Families

Early yesterday morning before the sun rose high in the sky to beam its beautiful—and hot as Hades—rays upon the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I put in a couple of hours sanding base boards and such. The sander fits my tiny hand pretty well, and its light weight nature makes it easy on me. I’ve been dealing with it for a number of days by now, and I guess, that I’m getting pretty good with it and pretty fast with the process. I will confess, however, I DO . . . NOT . . . LIKE . . . doing this.

I’m a petite woman with an extremely high energy level and whose well toned and agile muscles are located between my ears rather than in my physical body. On more than one occasion in my life, I’ve been told I have more energy than the Energizer Bunny. This has come in mighty handy throughout the years when I’ve had to go long hours in electoral campaigns or in the corporate world. However, this post-Katrina physical labor wears . . . me . . . out.

I find myself becoming a bit agitated with it and a bit grumpy at the challenge that doing this kind of work creates. In my exhausted stupor—which comes in full speed about 2 hours after I happily crank up the sander, I always think of those in this Katrina-ravaged area who have been here dealing with the physical, emotional, and financial toll the hurricane imposed.

In addition to that, I think about the betrayal everyone has felt from a White House occupant who remained on vacation while Katrina gathered strength and did nothing to help the states, cities, and the Gulf Coast and New Orleans residents in the face of what was about to happen. And who still does nothing to help with anything remotely resembling good old fashioned leadership.

Then to have the insurance companies deliberately betray consumer trust and outright refuse to cover legitimate claims had to have been another nightmare.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to watch as your home was swept away with the ferocious winds or the wind driven water . . . or to learn that all that you have left of your life is the set of clothes you and your family packed for the few days you thought it would take to return home or to watch, as my own family members did, water come into a home that has been a safe haven for its entire 43-year existence.

So many homes are gone. We were lucky because the family home remained standing though the roof poured water into the attic and water rose four and a half feet or so and placed about 8 inches in the house itself. I reflect on the various stories I’ve been privileged to learn.

Southern Hospitality, Goldie Locks, and Through the Looking Glass
A few weeks after I arrived for what I had intended to be a short visit back in March of this year, I attended a St. Patrick’s Day event at the local Internet Café, the Mockingbird Café. My brother Michael introduced me to two women who were sisters. For a time, their dad had carpooled to work with our dad. Both of our dads worked at Avondale Shipyards, some 90 minutes away—one way, if the roads were clear and there was no fog, rain, or other intemperate weather as is often the case in these parts.

Anyway, let’s call one of the sister’s Mary. Mary told me her Katrina story. As the storm proceeded to rain upon this area, she, her kids, and her best friend ended up crawling into the attic and eventually on to the roof to escape the water. She said that they were holding on for dear life. They noticed that a lot of houses were floating by them. Shocked, of course, at this entire nightmare, there greatest shock was soon to dawn upon them as they realized that the other houses were NOT floating at all.

Rather it was THEIR house that was floating away with them holding on for dear life! Mary tod me her story without choking up. Rather, in typical fashion for the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast region, she was laughing.

Indeed, a sense of humor about the whole Katrina experience wards off the adverse effects of the stress of the storm and the betrayal experienced at the hands of the Bush Administration’s failed FEMA leadership as well as the hands of the insurance industry.

After Katrina passed, Mary and her family went looking for others in the area. No one was around. They went to a neighbor’s house whose second story was still in good condition. They showered and slept. She said that she knew very well that her neighbors would welcome their presence. Before they left, they took care to make the beds. Sort of like Southern hospitality and manners meets Goldie Locks and the Three Bears in an Alice-in-Wonderland-Through-the-Looking-Glass reality.

Katrina Fatigue
So as I am feeling the exhaustion and a myriad of other things, I imagine what it is like for anyone who actually stayed and went through the storm itself. I need go no further than my own family. Two of my brothers stayed at the house through Katrina.

Why, you ask?

Because historically it has been the safest place in the county. Built in 1962, it has gone through every hurricane relatively unscathed save knocking down the trees. Camille did a bit of roof damage, but nothing traumatic.

After Katrina, my brothers pulled up carpet, tore out walls, helped out neighbors. My brother from New Orleans also went back to the city to check on and deal with his own house there, the home of his daughter’s mother, and various relatives and friends. To this day, he has been unable to get a plumber to show up and install the new hot water heater he has had for quite a long time.

A friend of mine recently visited the Gulf Coast for a work meeting. He remarked that he felt that folks down here were experiencing Katrina Fatigue. Yes, of course, they are. An overall sense of abandonment is almost palpable.

We’re the greatest nation on Earth, but since the current set of folks moved into our White House, caring about the American people and our families evaporated as surely as if Katrina herself had blown away such a traditional notion.

We like to pride ourselves on American ingenuity, our stick-to-itiveness. Yet, the national dialogue on our public airwaves focuses on Paris Hilton’s time in the slammer rather than the imprisoned feeling Katrina’s survivors are experiencing after the storm slammed these shores.

We are the wealthiest nation on the planet with a White House that loves to cloak itself with religious overtones, yet neglecting the real and ongoing needs is its modus operandi. Having returned to the town of my upbringing, I recall easily the songs we sang at Mass while I was growing up. (Please excuse the sexism.) But the words go like this. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” I guess Bush and his callous conservative crowd skipped those lessons.

For many of us inside and out of this Katrina-ravaged region, we understand the universal message of caring for others, being of service to others, giving a helping hand to those whose hand we can so easily touch . . . if only we would.

The current Administration talks of compassion, they don’t “do” compassion. It talks of American ingenuity and uses our famed “can-do” spirit to its own end, but it places unnecessary obstacles that prohibits our American can-do spirit . . . from doing.

Had we had a different federal leadership coming out of the Oval Office, one that would have been appropriate to the situation, then the folks living through Katrina and picking up the pieces afterwards to put together their lives would have been spared the lunacy and hardship of the “you’re on your own” homeland security policy that the Bush White House implemented.

As I continue my part in renovating my mom’s home, I think about the hardships of my friends and family as well as those of everyone I have met. This puts my personal experience into a larger context that keeps me focused on an attitude of gratitude for what my family has as I continue to wonder . . .

How would these incredible and unnecessary hardships from Bush’s FEMA and the insurance industry have been avoided had we had positive, healthy, appropriate White House leadership? The current administration spits out the phrase “family values” as if a punch line in a joke.

The leadership we had expected would have implemented innovative policies—including aggressively taking on the insurance industry—that demonstrated it really did value America’s families. This kind of White House leadership would have removed rather than placed obstacles in our way. This kind of White House leadership would have unleashed America’s can-do spirit, that uniquely American trait that inspires our ingenuity. That’s the American way.

With a White House leadership that implemented solid policies which valued America’s families, the Katrina fatigue that my friend so keenly observed this past weekend would have been a joyful exhaustion from having worked fast and furiously to rebuild so quickly, to reconstruct our homes, communities, and cities with vision and energy, and to rebound with vitality and vigor.

That’s the America we love, the America we respect, the America we trust. That’s the America in our hearts.

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