Friday, September 09, 2005

The Human Spirit Prevails

Who can forget the anguished face of Rodney King as he uttered his now famous plea, "Can't we get along here? Can't we all just get along?" Mr. King uttered these heartfelt words after fifty-four people had died in the savage riots that followed a not-guilty verdict in the trial of four LAPD officers charged with beating Mr. King. In the aftermath of these deadly riots, a president intervened, and the trial's outcome was altered: two of the officers spent thirty months in prison for violating Mr. King's civil rights. The year was 1992; the president George H. W. Bush. Do you remember?

Really, Mr. King's given name is Glen. Not that this matters in the larger scheme of things. Or, does it? Well, it's true that not only did the LAPD mishandle his arrest, they didn't even get his name right. Glen King, a drug-addicted, imperfect icon, became fodder for late night talk show hosts and other pundits before he faded into relative oblivion. Years passed, Mr. Bush returned to the private sector. But, you know, I never forgot the pleading look on Mr. King's face, nor did I forget his words.

You see, I thought of Mr. King today. After reading a plethora of editorials seeking to place blame and find fault following the horrific disaster with the beatific name, Katrina, I am overwhelmed by the savagery of these blaming and shaming individuals, by the spitefulness and racism that infuses them with words of malice, of criticism, and scorn. I felt that given the opportunity, Glen might again have voiced his plea.

Here is why. Here is what I have gleaned from myriad articles, from hours of surfing the web, and from hours of viewing video footage broadcast from the Superdome, the New Orleans Convention Center and various other locales. I see a common thread here, folks. I think many of you will as well.

At the Superdome, and outside the Convention Center, I saw faces mirroring anguish and fear, standing, sitting or sprawling in groups large and small. Law-abiding is one term I could use to describe these crowds. I saw no firearms, no violence, no evidence of anyone caught by the fisheye lens doing anything illegal.

But, law-abiding is not the first word that came to my mind. I thought of courage, I thought of strength, I thought of indomitable spirit in the face of unimaginable fear. I thought of citizens raised up with the understanding that no matter what befell them, this great country would come to rescue them in their hour of need.

In one frozen tableau, I see a small child, skin the color of rich chocolate, tenderly holding the hand of a frail, elderly woman in a wheelchair, skin the color of pale alabaster. Skin color becomes irrelevant in the face of need. I see big, strong men gently carrying the babies, the elderly, and the infirm to safety. I see mothers caring for their tiny infants, languishing in the stifling, humid heat. Waiting, waiting.

I've read stories of rescues of astonishing courage. I've seen images of young guardsmen lifting babies, children, and the elderly into buses, boats and helicopters. I've read about nurses and doctors, using their hands to administer oxygen to their patients for hours and hours and hours. Waiting, Waiting.

I've read of people from all over the globe offering help, sending money, promising aid in staggering amounts. I've had friends from all over the world offer words of solace, comfort, support.

I know of many who have so very little, offering--despite their own need--clothes, food, shelter for indefinite periods of time, and their own time and energy to minister to those who have survived something we cannot yet get our minds around.

No one's words of blame or shame can dampen the spirit of giving and support that we are seeing each and every day. You know, we saw this spirit of giving and support right after 9/11--the true Human Spirit. You were there. You pitched in. I know you did.

And, there are thousands of us--all colors, all races, all religions--who are going to give everything we can to help. We won't be detered by the nay-sayers. We won't waste our time evaluating which of the politicians is most successful at externalizing responsibility for the failures we have seen. We won't be diminished by any of the political grandstanding. We won't think ill of those who are suffering and in need. Regardless of the challenges we face, we will be there for each other through this ordeal. You just see if we won't.

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