Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Even Though I've Lost All My Possessions....

Hi everyone,

I don't have too much new to report. You've probably heard the city is under martial law. Things have continued to deteriorate and the water continues to rise throughout the city. The 17th Street Canal breach has proven really catastrophic, inundating almost all of the city in Orleans Parish which was, to that point, fairly dry.

We've just had word that our family stuck on the 4th floor of Baptist Hospital have now had to move to the 5th floor due to the rising water. All the staff and their family members in the hospital have got together to make a human chain to move the patients up to the rooftop helipad, where they'll then be rescued by helicopter. The staff will be the last to go.

Norbert Mayer-Wittmann sent me this great question and I wanted to share my response here publicly:

Did you take more than 3 days clothing? Oh, you probably lost almost everything -- my mom has often said that because the town she grew up in was bombed in 1945 and the house burned to the ground -- well, that it was actually liberating. But I think perhaps it was libreating because it happened to so many people and there it was a case of "being in the same boat". Being down and out all alone and being down and out together with other people are two different things. Hopefully the next time you meet someone on the street they will be as pleasant to you as you are to other people -- because I can imagine it would do you good to have the support of other people as nice as you are right now.

Firstly, no, we didn't have more than 3 days' clothing! At the time we evacuated, we really didn't think Katrina was going to be more than a bad Category 3 and we thought she had a good chance of missing New Orleans by a fair margin. An on-target Category 4 didn't seem likely. So Lillie and I have just been out to WalMart to get some more clothes to go on with.

As for Norbert's other comments, we're already seeing all sorts of wonderful actions and a new community feel emerging here. Baton Rouge's population has swelled dramatically with an influx of New Orleanians who now may be here for quite some time. WalMart was jam packed with people doing serious stocking up. In the store, we ran into one woman from Baton Rouge who was trying to juggle a tiny baby, a toddler and two huge shopping carts piled high. We offered to help her and asked if she was from New Orleans. She said, no, I'm buying these things to take to the Red Cross. When we thanked her on behalf of New Orleans (amazing how you take on airs and start to talk on behalf of your city when things like this happen!), she said what a tiny, tiny thing it was.

I still have a huge sense of privilege, because I can afford to go to WalMart and buy some clothes to go on with. I feel so much for the people who were too poor to evacuate, or who could evacuate but don't have enough money to stay away from their homes. That's a terrible place to be in.

As for it feeling liberating to be possession-less in company with others (as I assume I really am), it's true, but it's only part of it. I've given up almost all my possessions at one other time (when I moved from Australia to the US) and that was certainly liberating. This time, I simply feel it doesn't matter that I've lost stuff, knowing that friends and family are safe. I also really did have too much stuff in my life, so this is an efficient if somewhat drastic way to cut back!

On the other hand, I keep on having these little twinges: I remember a particular photo of a dead friend that I now no longer have; I think of a political sticker I'd ordered to put on my pickup truck, and realise not only will the package not get delivered, but that I no longer have a truck to put it on. Hmm... I just realised I'd ordered a Flying Spaghetti Monster t-shirt and I won't be there to receive it! (What happens to mail when the whole city is drowned?)

None of it really matters, but even though I've lost all my possessions in one day, I find myself having to let go of bits and pieces at a time. - Rose Vines