Thursday, September 08, 2005

Thinking of Denny, Marie and the Zoo

Dear friends and family,

It’s 9.30pm and I just heard the mosquito control vehicle go by,
spraying the area. We had similar trucks in New Orleans, trying to
control the rampant mozzie population. They’ll need to do aerial
spraying now, in addition to all the other disinfection that needs to be

I was up till 1am last night then woke at about 5am this morning. The
intense pressure to get up and write and do things makes it impossible
for me to stay in bed, but I’ve now started succumbing to afternoon
naps, which are blissful. I seem to sleep much better for that hour or
two than I do during the night. I’m fortunate I don’t have nightmares,
which Lillie and her sister Laurie and a number of other people I’ve
been talking to do. But I always go to sleep and wake up with my mind
filled with the disaster.

This morning I woke thinking of our friend Denny. She’s an inspirational
lawyer, head of the Louisiana Capital Post Conviction Project, which
defends people who are already on death row, trying to save their lives.
We’d been very worried about Denny, because her sister Marie has
advanced lung cancer and it took days for us to hear from them after the
hurricane. We eventually heard that Denny and Marie had made it to
Atlanta. Denny said she originally really wanted to ride out the storm
in New Orleans, staying at a hotel near Marie’s hospital, so they could
get her admitted if she needed it. But she finally realised they needed
to leave, thank goodness.

I woke thinking how hard it must be to be Marie, or someone like her,
who has had to leave New Orleans in what may be the last months of her
life. It’s a terrible agony for us all, but not to be around to see the
place rebuilt would be even harder.

It’s similarly hard for old people. So many of the old people we know
sound so, so tired or have become disoriented and confused since Katrina
struck. It’s a terrible blow to lose the place you’ve lived and loved
all your life when you don’t have the resiliency or energy to bounce
back. And the worst thing is being separated from friends and family,
with no idea if or when you’ll get back together.

Lillie’s dad has a bunch of mates who have been fast friends since 1939.
They’re now spread across the country, from Wisconsin to various states
across the south. They may never be neighbours again.

I had a particularly hard day today, not because anything happened, but
just because I was a little overwhelmed. I went out this morning to do
some shopping for the household and found it good to have a little
personal space in the car. But also hard, too. I sat in a parking lot
and cried.

People in the shops bent over backwards to be helpful. That’s my
experience everywhere. For example, people don’t just give you
directions to where you need to go to find a store or service; instead
they spend time making sure you know exactly how to get there and how
long it will take, jotting things down or pulling out a map and showing
you. There’s a huge feeling of compassion, even in a city where things
have suddenly become a lot more inconvenient for the local residents due
to the influx of refugees.

We received word today that Lillie’s firm is definitely planning to set
up temporary shop in Houston and they hope to offer all their employees
work, although everyone will take a cut in wages. This is wonderful
news, because now we know Lillie will have a job and we can make
definite plans to move. I’ve found the uncertainty about this a real
stress and so it was wonderful to hear the news today when I was feeling

I’m a big fan of Lillie’s firm. It’s a small family owned law firm, with
about 11 lawyers and around 30 or so other employees. They really take
care of people and treat all employees as family. They have secretaries
who’ve worked there for 30 and 40 years – a real sign that a company is
a good place to work when it treats its “lowly” non-professional staff
well enough to keep them that long. The office manager started in the
firm at the age of 18 decades ago and has worked in every position in
the company except lawyer. So I’m not surprised that they’ve made a
Herculean effort to take care of everyone in these incredibly hard times.

Some good news on the animal front, too: I’ve heard that somehow the zoo
managed to save almost all its animals except a pair of otters (and one
alligator who’s gone a-roamin’, but who they “expect will return”). My
friend Thomas heard a report on NPR (National Public Radio) saying at
least 12 staffers remained at the zoo to look after the animals there,
and they continue to remain there. The US Navy is supposedly bringing in
a reverse-osmosis water purifier to allow the zoo to replenish the water
in the exhibits.

And although all the fish at the aquarium died, “The sea otters,
penguins, leafy and weedy sea dragons, birds (macaws and raptors), and
the white alligator are fine. Midas, the infamous 250-pound sea turtle,
survived and has been coaxed into the holding area in the Gulf of Mexico


Rose Vines