Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Those who were left Behind

I have been watching the news coverage of the disasters that were started by Hurricane Katrina.

I must admit that as I watched the confused responses that the government made I was very angry with certain political officials who had diverted funds, or moved departments around,or played golf or a guitar while New Orleans drowned. I was angry at those officials who left so many people behind.

There was talk of those who did not go, to those who could not go....and how no one seemed to care. At first I was angry at those who left these people behind....then after a few days of cursing the administration I realized that these people that were still in New Orleans had not just been left behind in the last few days by a callous government administration. These people had been left behind a long time ago....they had been left behind as children when they entered school, they had been left behind when there was training for good jobs, they were left behind when they were too old or too ill to be of use to us..they were indeed left behind by a callous administration but they had been left behind by all of us long before there was a storm in the gulf.

Many of us speak about the rising tide that lifts all boats, but we forget not all of us have boats. If we are going to mouth such cliches it is incumbent on us to make sure each and every person has if not a boat of their own,at least a berth on a boat somewhere.

While it is nothing but a crying shame that it took so long for the government to respond to this crisis, (I know it makes me comfortable that the government could respond so well to a crisis they did have five days notice of), it is even more of a crying shame that in the richest country in the world there were people without the means to even get out of the way of an oncoming blow. We have people in the country who we have left without the ability to even duck. They were not left behind in the last years or months ...they were left behind decades ago. They were left behind by Buddhists as well as Evangelical Christians, they were left behind by liberals as well as conservatives, they were left behind by women as well as men...they were left behind without a backward glance by each and every one of us long long ago.

I know it is naive to believe we can end poverty....but poverty is a relative thing.....there need not be people in the richest country in the world who do not have a way to leave if disaster is coming with five days notice. The poor will always be with us a wise man once said, it is also true the foolish will always be with us. Some will be too foolish to leave property in order to protect their lives, but I must point out that too is the result of a culture that says you are what you own, what you can consume is all that matters, and a man is a person who wears the latest fashion, not a person who makes good sound decisions for himself and his family and friends. A woman is someone who looks good floating face down in the muck, not someone with sense enough to move her children to high ground when the water is rising. The poor should be given drugs to keep them quiet so we do not have to think about leaving them behind rather than helping them to have some minimum standard of living ..it is ok for insurance companies to rip them off, credit card companies to loot them, rental agencies to overcharge for very little, and now even their ability to insure a car so they could drive out of New Orleans is based on how long it has been since they payed their Visa card who so generously offer credit at 30% plus interest and of course very reasonable late fees and other charges.....then if they could buy a car and insure it ...the police are 10 times more likely to stop them and ticket them in an old car that they can afford than those a new one.....and Us?... We are just glad that these things happen to "those people".... The poor in California payed for the energy rip offs of Enron to a much greater degree than those who were rich.....we hear often about the poor people who lost their pensions when Enron failed....but not a whit about the poor who had to pay the power bills ...and that made them late on their credit cards, and that made them not be able to get a decent place to live...or even a way to get to work. Shame on us....shame on all of us...all of us who were just glad that it was not happening to us ......yet. In our rush to take care of us and those we consider ours, we have left innocent children and babies behind to drown. We have left the old and ill behind to rot in their wheelchairs. Shame on us.... Shame on all of us.

The problem for us should not be that in these days of disaster we cannot ignore the cries of children who have lost their mothers, or mothers who have lost sight of children the rest of us lost sight of long ago. We should not have to seek who to be blaming for those that were left behind. There should not have been one person left behind...not this week, not last, not in the decades and years before this disaster hit.

As Buddhists we vow to save all beings....the vow is not to move forward faster than the slowest one....to be the last to enter, not the first. We should not be righteous in our anger......the failure is in each and every one of our hearts.

Be Well