Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls. It Tolls For “Occupant.”
Here’s a thought.
(written by a live journal user)
It might cross your mind, at some point in the next few days, to write something about how “stupid” the people trapped in the disaster zones have been, or how “lazy” they must be to not have escaped sooner, or how they “deserved what they got” for choosing to live somewhere on the Gulf Coast, within direct reach of hurricanes.
My suggestion is this– sit on your fucking hands. Sit on them until those sentiments no longer make your typing fingers itch.
Natural disasters are ubiquitous. Somewhere in the world, something is always happening… a tornado is touching down, a dam is breaking, a river is surging, an earthquake is trembling, a forest is burning. Some of these events become so routine, that local residents come to view them as quirky inconveniences rather than hellish disasters. Weathering them with a smile becomes a source of pride, an essential element of local character. Inclement weather becomes a feature, not a bug. The national media does goofy human interest stories about it. Locals hook their thumbs in their belts and say, “No sir, them there sulfuric acid geysers ain’t never bothered us none. You just keep the kids indoors and wash the dogs with baking soda after you let ’em out.”
The Gulf Coast gets hit by hurricanes pretty frequently.
Most of them are nothing like Katrina, or Camille, or Andrew. All of them cause trouble for someone, but most of them pass in a flurry of rain and wind, tear some shingles here and break some windows there, drop a few tornadoes, and then go away. Residents come out of their homes, take the boards off the windows, crack their knuckles, and get to clearing the debris from their streets and their yards. They’ve spat in Mother Nature’s eye one more time and lived to tell about it. Move? Why move, when the weather’s really not that big a deal?
They start to think they can handle anything. And then the once-in-a-century Motherfucker Maximus comes along and turns the landscape into a collaboration between Jasper Johns and Gustav Dore.
Quite a few of them weren’t stupid, or lazy. They were in fact tough, smart, and brave– and acclimated to expectations that didn’t hold true.
Quite a few of them were elderly, infirm, or poor, or without personal vehicles, or families, or anyone out-of-state to put them up even if they could get out.
Quite a few of them were surprised by the speed with which the hurricane gathered force, as was the entire emergency management infrastructure of the entire nation. The state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans were caught with their pants down, to say nothing of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. So the elderly, the bed-ridden, the poor, and the just plain busy were supposed to gather information how… Ouija Board? Owl Post?
Quite a few of the laggards are no doubt lying through their teeth about why they stayed. Pop quiz– a CNN camera crew shoves a microphone in your face and asks you to tell five million viewers why you stayed behind. What are you going to say– “I just shit my pants and had no idea what to do, so I crawled up on my roof and cried,” or “Ha! Yeah, I saw those fifteen-foot waves, and it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. I lived! Bring it on! Saints are gonna be in the NFC Championship Game, Bay-bee!”
Just reflect on that for a moment. Maybe Peg would’ve been honest, because she has the introspection of a Jedi Knight. The rest of you, I’m not so sure about. Me, I’m not so sure about.
And the macho speculation? The “Oh, gosh, if that was me in there, why, I’d just get out my trusty rifle and pack up my bags and I’d have walked right the fuck out of there, not like those pussies who stayed behind,” bullshit? Don’t sit on your hands. Put them together and pray to whatever god you believe in for a spark of empathy. Keyboard strokes are cheap. You are not special. “Skill” has nothing to do with it. “Deserve” has nothing to do with it.
Two weeks ago, half-a-dozen middle-aged folks taking a bus tour of Wisconsin were smeared against glass and metal because a drunk driver blindsided their bus. This happened a mile from my house. Six weekend vacations ended with plastic tubes down throats and helicopter rides to the nearest hospital.
Did they deserve it? Were they stupid? Lazy? What Matrix-esque midair contortions might you have performed in their place, you who are Prepared For All Contingencies?
Two days ago, a bicyclist in his late twenties was struck by a speeding car on the same stretch of road. He was folded up like a Transformer and pounded halfway through the windshield of the vehicle that hit him. He was nothing but a blood sponge when we got him on the stretcher– and the kicker was he had extensive scars on his chest suggesting a previous close brush with death. He reached the hospital but didn’t survive.
Surely, in his place, you would have done much better, right? Specialist training? Ancient wisdom? Some sort of machomancy that would render you immune to the laws of physics?
He was just a guy on a bike. He was obeying traffic laws. He didn’t do anything to anyone, and he’s deader than shit for it.
Yesterday, a motorcyclist and an automobile driver had a disagreement about right-of-way at moderate speed. They were both injured, seriously but not critically. Dozens of motorists behind them were delayed for up to forty-five minutes by the accident. Did they deserve that inconvenience?
One of those motorists began to pass out and experience some of the signs of an impending heart attack. Did he deserve that, for the sin of sitting in traffic on a hot day?
Where do you live, that’s so free from natural disasters you can pat yourself on the back for your excellent judgment? The Pacific Northwest? Volcanoes and rain! The Midwest? Tornadoes, blizzards, thunderstorms! The Gulf Coast? Hurricanes! The South/West? Droughts! Major cities? Blackouts! Bangladesh? Typhoons! Malaysia? Tsunami! Japan? Godzilla!
Look, if you get caught in a natural disaster, it’s your own damn fault for one primary reason– having been born somewhere on the surface of this fucking planet. Circumstance is chasing us all down, slowly but surely. There’s an expiration date stamped on all of us. Empathy, sympathy, and respect all stem from recognition of this. And there’s nothing cheaper, nothing less considerate, nothing more full of witless sound and fury, than sitting in comfort and safety and taunting the drowned, the displaced, the diseased, the lost, and the destitute for not being the Awesome Hurricane Warrior you would have been in their place.
Have some common fucking courtesy. Some day, I guarantee, you will find yourself in a situation where you will need the life- or health-saving assistance of others, and there’s a good chance some of them might regard you as stupid, or lazy, or foolish, or all three, because of it.
Those judgments will not necessarily be fair. Neither are yours at this moment. So muzzle them.