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

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What Katrina Taught Me

by Ana Maria

This day will live on in infamy. Two years ago, Katrina came ashore with her 135 plus miles per hour wind. For many of us here at Katrina’s ground zero, today marks the anniversary that the storm came ashore wiping out our homes, communities, and the lives of our loved ones. At the memorial celebration this morning, Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo stated succinctly what we want from the federal government. We want help getting to our knees. Once we get to our knees, we’ll be able to take it from there. Mayor Longo’s comment reflects one of the most common sentiments found inside Katrina Land.

We’re not a bitter people. Folks here who’ve been through hell over the last two years just want assistance to get to the kneeling position.

We’re a grateful people. At the ceremony in Waveland, Mississippi, Mayor Longo expressed eternal gratitude to the half a million volunteers who’ve helped put back together our towns.

We’re a people who persevere in the face of enormous odds. Why? Because this is home. The people who’ve been through those horrible tornadoes in Michigan or floods in Ohio will persevere for the same reason. Where they are is home.

Two years ago today, I woke up, left my home in San Jose, drove to work at the San Francisco Budget Analyst’s Office, and at some point in the day, I spoke with my mom who had been driven the day before from her home in Bay St. Louis, Miss., to my brother’s home in Georgia close to Chattanooga, Tenn. I felt good that she had left the house, but I really didn’t think any more about it. It was precautionary, and I—like so very many others—thought it would be all for naught. Two brothers remained at the house to ride out Katrina.

The ensuing days, weeks, and months took on a life of their own that I—nor anyone that I know personally—could have envisioned.

I remember standing outside of the Fox Building in downtown San Francisco talking with my older brother in Georgia. When he told me that our home had taken in water, my heart sank, my stomach fell to the ground, and I was dizzy from the mere thought of it. In shock, I just stared blankly as I asked how about my Mom and then my two brothers who had witnessed the hurricane upfront and personal.

There I was some 2200 miles away safe inside major earthquake country living in Silicon Valley and working in the internationally renowned city of San Francisco an hour north. Beauty all around me. The hustle and bustle of life’s vibrancy. All I could think about was, well, I couldn’t think. I was in shock, and I wasn’t worth a damn the rest of the day.

I couldn’t imagine the nightmare that my brothers experienced as they witnessed the water rising into the house. I wanted to do something, but what?

For months after, the two brothers as well as everyone else dealt with dirt, dead bodies, pulling out carpet and getting rid of appliances as well as other damaged parts of the house. Not just my mom’s house, but also the homes of family and friends from New Orleans through the Gulf Coast. A nightmare. One long, hellacious, living nightmare.

Today is day, though, where the focus is on affirming our resilience. Today is a day to remember those who have died and those who remain suffering through the storm’s after effects—both from the storm itself as well as the suffering imposed from the insurance companies that have failed to uphold their end of the bargain. Today is a day to remember all of us in Katrina Land who suffer from an appalling lack of aggressive, innovative, devoted, and committed White House leadership.

Today, George W. Bush is actually showing up here in my home town of Bay St. Louis, Miss. Yesterday, when I was told of his visit I immediately mentioned something about making signed that said INSURANCE REFORM NOW! Then, I chuckled. What was I doing? I must have thought that I was living in the United States of America where Freedom of Speech reigned supreme. In that moment, I forgot that Bush had torn up the U.S. Constitution and prevented any form of challenge to him be it with signs or t-shirts or whathaveyou.

Forget it. I’m too tired from my not quite six months here at ground zero to be expending any of my precious energy on Bush and what he has done to change our country in the wrong direction. Those who have energy and resources, time and desire, please do so.

As for me, I am choosing to focus on what will make a difference today, here, in the lives of my family, friends, and community. Our needs are great and more than anything, we need the energy that comes forth from hope, that marvelous gift that brings innovation, imagination, determination, and optimism. This highly contagious resource is the gift that volunteers continue to provide.

Mayor Tommy Longo said something about helping us get to our knees. Well, that’s what I’m doing in my own way. Helping us get to our knees. Helping my family, my friends, and by extension, my community.

Both in my political and personal lives, Katrina redirected my on what can be done right now to make things better, to take advantage of the minutes in my hands today, to plan well and execute those plans as best as I can, and to always remember that the little things are what make up what we call life. Today and tomorrow, I’m working with two of my beloved brothers to put the furniture back in place after the contractor completes his gloriously awaited work. By Friday, my mother will be back in her house with it looking great and perhaps she will begin to feel a sense of home.

We still have some things to do, but providing a sense of home is critical be it my mom, my other family members, my friends, or my community. More than any of the social justice, political, or community work I’ve done since leaving this town in 1977 to go to college, Katrina has taught me that a sense of home, of belonging, of togetherness, of community is paramount.

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Andy said...

Six months ago, I was asking the same question to a man came from New Orleans, "why can't we get the city back on track?"

It is a shame that one of the richest nations spending insane amount of money on war, but no money on its own suffering citizens.

After reading your article, I wanted to tell you this is one of the best Blog entries I read recently. Can I feature your article on my website? You will also be eligible to win the monthly prize. My web site address is:

If you want your article to be featured, simply go to Contact page and submit your information and URL to this article. Thank you for your consideration.

Ana Maria said...

Thanks! You bet I'd LOVE for you to post my piece. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you.

Ana Maria