I have been having trouble getting out of my own head since I first heard about the superstorm we now know as Sandy. I have had feelings and thoughts rolling around and finding the words to express them has been a challenge. I tried to explain it to some friends today, but it all came out wrong, it all came out wrapped in a blanket of intense feelings and frustration that completely muddled and overshadowed all the things I meant to say.
Having lived in New Orleans post-Katrina, any talk of hurricanes immediately raises my heckles. When I lived there, I worked at a school that was 1/4 of a mile from one of the levees and it was 13 feet underwater in the days after Katrina. When I began working there, almost a year later, you could look in either direction and see for miles because there were almost no houses left. And the ones you could see were condemned, with the spray painted x showing whether someone perished within. Though I wasn’t in New Orleans for Katrina, it had a profound impact on my life.
I saw what Katrina did to New Orleans and to New Orleanians. And it’s from that, from the stories of my husband, of my students, of my friends, that I have come to have these feelings.
My first thought above all else has been concern for those effected. If I’ve learned anything about hurricanes it’s that even those whose houses survive without a scratch are not unscathed. You cannot live through a storm like this one without feeling a little changed. There is the obvious worry about physical safety and damaged homes and all of that, but I also have deep concerns about the mental and emotional wellbeing of those in Sandy’s path and the emotional state of their loved ones because I’ve been in those shoes too, and it is awful.
The other feelings I have are more…complicated.
On the one hand, I am SO glad that the government is already intervening for those on the east coast. I truly am. But it brings about these weird feelings of jealousy. My husband had to wait weeks to even be let back in to New Orleans to get any of his possessions. He had to wait longer for FEMA to get their act together and to help him pay double rent while he was displaced in Texas. Many of my friends were largely homeless, living in hotels hours away from home because FEMA was painfully slow to act. I know jealousy seems like the wrong emotion and maybe it is, but that’s the thing about feelings, they’re kind of messy.
And then there’s the snark I see and hear around me. I have seen several of my New Orleans friends tweet and update facebook with the same thought that many of us have been thinking, however briefly. When New Orleans flooded, when Mississippi and Alabama were destroyed, the public opinion was not overwhelmingly that of loving support in the way it has been for those in the northeast. There was a very strong feeling of superiority from those who lived away from the gulf. New Orleanians were told that the damage they experienced was their own fault. It was what they deserved for living below sea level, for living in a hurricane zone. They were told not to bother rebuilding their lives, that they just needed to leave their homes behind and move somewhere else.
It was never an argument that made sense to me. Californians live along active earthquake faults and periodically this results in catastrophe. Midwesterners live in tornado zones and periodically, there are devastating storms. And southerners and east coast dwellers live in hurricane zones and the results of that are often among the worst natural disasters of them all. And so the argument of you deserved it, or you should not rebuild is flawed to me. We all assume risk, regardless of where we live. It’s a part of living, period.
I imagine I’m not the only one who gets bombarded with complex thoughts about these storms. I realize that not all of this probably seems to make sense, but putting it here gets it out of my head and organizes it in a way that makes things make sense again.
I hope that those who are living through this nightmare are able to find some escape, that they are getting the help and the support that they need and deserve. And I hope that they feel that they can and should rebuild their homes and pick up their lives right where they left them before the storm clouds rolled in and changed everything.