Friday, September 09, 2005

I Know How The Other Katrina Victims On The Gulf Coast Feel (sort of)

I don't *really* know exactly how it feels to be a victim of Katrina right now, one of those on the Gulf Coast that the eye of the hurricane actually HIT (unlike New Orleans, which has gotten most of the news coverage). I don't *really* know what it's like to lose 90% of your town, as residents of Biloxi have, to suffer through one of the fiercest hurricanes our country has ever seen, drowning in feet of water while the coastline by your doorstep becomes indiscernable through the flooding in your town.

But I *do* know that when victims of Katrina throughout the Gulf Coast region express frustration that all the coverage of this disaster seems focused on New Orleans and they feel like no one is aware of what they, too, have gone through... I'm incredibly empathetic.

Because that's kind of how I felt after 9/11, living D.C.

The rest of the nation seemed glued to New York City, oblivious to what those of us in D.C., also attacked by terrorists that day, went through. Like New Orleans last week, New York City after all bore the brunt of casualties, and consequently, news coverage. So even though the eye of the storm hit us as well on 9/11 in an incredibly horrific way, as the eye of the storm hit hundreds of thousands of people outside New Orleans last week... the rest of the nation didn't quite seem to get it.

They didn't SEE the image I saw of the massive cloud of smoke, as tall as a skyscraper, rising from the Pentagon in the immediate aftermath of the attack. They didn't experience the terror of seeing our nation's biggest symbol of strength brought to its knees. Some even doubted a plane even HIT the Pentagon, since they, unlike my friends who did witness that horrible moment, didn't see it with their own eyes. They didn't hear the news reports flooding across our local airwaves that our whole city was under attack, that more planes were headed for the White House and Capitol, that the Mall was on fire, that buildings were being bombed (most such reports not being true, but after seeing the unbelievable happening right across the Potomac from my office, I believed every warning I heard that day). They didn't experience the terror of living in the Nation's capitol when it WAS confirmed that another hijacked plane was coming right for us. They didn't see the images of tankers rolling into town and setting up shop on every business district street corner. They didn't experience the terror of being told that there would be NO more planes flying through the air... and then waking up in the middle of the night to the terrifying noise of plane jets SO CLOSE they sounded they were about to crash into you, convinced it was more terrorist strikes heading right for you. They didn't see the hundreds of thousands of people trapped in downtown D.C., unable to get to their suburban homes twenty miles away other than walking, slowly, painfully, for hours (though they did see many images of people walking home through Manhattan and across the Brooklyn Bridge).

What most people experienced that horrible week was not images from D.C., not anything coming close to capturing what we went through, but only the images of the World Trade Center being hit and collapsing. Over. and over. and over. Again.

I wept at those images too... the number of deaths that day and the MANNER in which people died... was the worst thing I'd ever seen. And yet what I and everyone trapped in D.C. went through was beyond horrific as well. The Pentagon burning, our nation's Capital under attack *with us in it*... it's indescribable.

But not many people in D.C. cried out, "hey! What about us? We were attacked too... we experienced something incredibly horrible and terror-striking as well"... we just bit our tongues and grieved for the New York victims along with the rest of the nation and were *glad* that no one quite understood what had happened in D.C. Because if everyone HAD shared our terror that day and understood exactly what it felt like to be in Washington D.C. on 9/11... the terrorists truly would have won.

I never wrote about these feelings at the time, other than just describing what I went through and getting upset at the occasional note that shrugged off my descriptions of D.C. on 9/11 as hysteria.

But I never actually *resented* the lack of coverage of D.C., as opposed to New York, that the World Trade Centers came to be THE image of that terrible day's destruction, the burning Pentagon and vulnerable Capital far from sight. I just noticed it... and wondered... if anyone else in the country could really truly *get* it, what we went through that week in D.C.

So, yes, I hear you, victims of Katrina who were fortunate NOT to be in New Orleans but may not have any other blessings to count right now. I empathize with your frustration.

Now that our roles have reversed, and I have been admittedly New Orleans obsessed, believe me, New Orleans may be the clearest image of Katrina's destruction, and those of us grappling for words and truths right now in dealing with this go to the most obvious visual to try to attach our thoughts and emotions to.

But yes, yes, yes... the eye didn't even HIT New Orleans, and not many of us are talking about those it DID hit, and the incredible amount of death and destruction you, too have faced.

I hear you. And the nation may not be good at expressing it... but we ARE unified in our biggest condolences and hopes that you can get through this stronger than ever.

We could be less myopic and shortsighted, it's true. We don't always get each other, understand what others are going through, or even have the energy, courage or conscience, to try some of the time. But the incredible outpouring of support, evidenced by a half BILLION dollar in private donations to the Red Cross in a week's time... that's for you too.

But try to get used to New Orleans always being synonymous with Katrina from hereon out. Just as the World Trade Centers and New York are synonymous with 9/11. It doesn't minimize your experiences... it's just the language America speaks. Doesn't mean they don't care. No, they don't completely get it. But the world is mourning for you and your losses too. It is.


Blogger I can said...

I think that what you say is so true. I wonder if at the time of 9/11, if our government chose not to have as much shown on television. Maybe it would have made our Country look more vulnerable. It is very frightening to think of those 4 planes and their mission that day.

2:57 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

Great post Kat. I'm really enjoying reading your comments on that other blog :), and just making my way through here now. It's a cool medium in that we get to learn what is really going on in other people's minds (OPM ?) Which could be a frightening thing :), but so far has proved to be cool. Enjoy getting to know you via your more deeper thoughts, and not just brief classroom comments. Take care, Mary ps. Still unpacking the last few...

2:41 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

ps. If you have comments turned on, you maybe should turn on that option that forces people to type in the letters they see. Keeps out the porno spam sales ads. Unless you really want to advertise for penis enlargement pills. Lol

2:43 PM  

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