Us and Them

Sep 072005
Authors: Jonathon Kastner

There are times when you just don't want to be funny.

I know I'm certainly not going to be the only columnist to write about Hurricane Katrina. My column runs on Thursday, and I write this on a Monday, so by now you are probably inundated with columns mourning the hurricane victims, and for this, I apologize.

I normally try to be a voice of humor. It's the one emotion that's publicly acceptable – you cry in public or do a little happy jig, and you're going to get stares. Laugh, and the whole world wants in on the joke. Humor is a massage for the soul.

But I can't bring myself to do it. I'm barely bringing myself to drag the trash to the curb, or take notes in class. Any laughs would be forced, because the soul too bruised to massage.

The scale of the damage is simply beyond comprehension. The closer you get to understanding, the more you want to load up a van with bottled water, drive southeast until you hit water, and return with refugees.

The natural disaster is terrible, of course, and can be directly blamed for its wake. But it is the human element that I can't wrap my mind around. Reports of a sniper at a hospital, of civilians shooting at engineers repairing a bridge, and looters, both among the civilians and even the police.

By now, I'm sure some of those reports have been either disproved or changed, but the overall story will likely be the same – New Orleans is being kicked while it's down.

Even 9/11 didn't hit me this hard, partly because there was a barrier of us versus them. We were a relatively peaceful people, and they were a tiny group of extremists. They were representative of nothing but their own hate. They were not us.

These people are us. Even the looters, the deplorable, villainous looters, are us. Picture seeing the wreck that was your home.

Your eyes pan to your family, cold and huddled, and then to the superstore across the street. It starts out as taking food, but you've just lost everything you've spent your whole life earning. You don't have insurance.

Then it grows. It's not just one person taking from a "faceless" corporation to provide for a family. It turns to petty burglary, fire, accident, violence. The great human snowball of panic, desperation and greed.

It's here that a natural disaster becomes a national tragedy. Murder and rape of those who have already lost home and family has a sorrowful essence reminiscent of the hijackings on 9/11. And it's no longer some alien "them" – it's our own.

The charities that are reacting are doing so with impressive precision. This effort will last longer than the media will cover it – New Orleans isn't going to be fixed in the next few months. I have to leave on this note, and you've hopefully heard it before. If you can't afford to donate now, then keep in mind they'll need money down the line too. This effort is a snowball of another kind – the kind that we are proud to say is "us."

The Red Cross has a donation hotline at 1-800-HELP-NOW.

Johnathan Kastner is a junior English major. His column runs every Thursday in the Verve.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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