"The people are so nice, but this place is really strange to me," said Desiree Thompson, who arrived in Albuquerque last Sunday with six of her children and two grandchildren, along with about 100 other evacuees. "The air is different. My nose feels all dry. The only thing I've seen that looks familiar is the McDonalds."
Although I've never experienced this kind of displacement, I have felt that feeling of being lost in a strange land. Moves from CA to CO, back to CA, to LA and to OH, back to CA, and finally to OR, have brought feelings of uprootedness, of not belonging, of starting over. But nothing like the feelings of shock and displacement hurricane victims are experiencing. Or those whose lives have been changed by the war in Iraq. Or those left behind when their loved ones perished in 9/11.
Almost immediately after 9/11, my personal life turned chaotic. We sold our house, moved into two apartments, depleted our savings, and nothing has been the same since. Looking back, of course, we realize that one bad choice led to another. But we were Americans, positive and hopeful. Downturns just meant trying harder and praying more.
Today, we're awash in sorrow, sorrow for our fellow-humans, those displaced in the South, those killed by Katrina's wide hand of destruction. Sorrow for all those lost in Iraq, in Afghanistan, both Christians and Muslims. For those killed in London, those lost in Asia's tsunami. And for the powerless and hungry in Darfur. The general mood of the world seems to be one of sad resignation. Too many hurts piled on top of each other, too many deaths to truly comprehend. We take this collective pain into ourselves, feel the losses like fists in our stomachs.
Stubborn Americans, faithful Americans, hopeful Americans. Our roots may be in Great Britain, in Africa, in Australia, or Hungary. Displaced from the Soviet Union or Cambodia, we may have started over in this country of opportunity. Our cultural identities are lost (no matter what the media and political activists tell us) in the soup of our common humanity. Everyone is being "sensitive" and politically correct these days, but the poor were poor generations back, long before Katrina. What will hold us together now is not another welfare program, but common goals and compassion.
I have heard the great hurricane blamed on God, on the president, on FEMA, on our dependence on fossil fuels. Nature took some blame, too, but who can hold a grudge against nature? It's time to drop the blaming, to gather under the same tent in this time of chaos. And it is time to put our ears to the ground, listening for leaders who tell the truth. We have had enough of trumped-up resumes, of trumped-up wars, of corrupt levee boards, of the lies, the waste, the greed that has decimated our country. Downturns mean trying harder and praying more, and one other thing: pulling our collective head out of the sand.