Sunday, September 04, 2005

Watching the World On TV

Growing up in an earthquake zone, you get used to the idea that the natural world can kill you easily, and that some day the Big One will come, maybe today, or maybe twelve years from now.

But I'm still glued to the TV and newspaper coverage of Katrina, overwhelmed with the disaster that's come down on the Gulf Coast.

Various persons out there have attributed Katrina's fury to (I'm keeping a list, in no particular order), the Gaza pullout, homosexuality, the Iraq war, and general malfeasance of the United States.

Yesterday I was taking the 1 California bus toward downtown, and passed the Chinese Baptist church up in the Fillmore. Tagged on the side:

Bush Sent Troops to Iraq.


I am reminded of a scene in Vikram Seth's excellent and endless novel _A Suitable Boy_, where a young God-seeking man attends a huge Hindu festival where a panic breaks out in the crowd. Hundreds of people die, trampled to death. Dipankar, the character, turns to the man he hopes will become his guru and asks why it happened, expecting a deep spiritual answer. The old man tells him that the emergency planning for the festival was not good.

In this case, of course, there's a clear natural cause for what happened, combined with lousy levee funding and emergency planning. I am not a theologian, in fact I think theology is pretty silly by its very nature. But I will go on record as saying that I don't have a particularly satisfying reason for why the world was so organized that people and their lives can be destroyed like this, but I absolutely reject the idea that any of us can find out God's motivations by exmaining our own political beliefs.

On Friday, the kid who always comes by from the library and delivers the Oakland Tribune to my classroom came by. I took the paper. A home nurse was screaming to passerby to bring her patient oxygen. This was just a badly paid, maybe emotionally satisfying job until Katrina hit--and now this woman is in a ruined city, trying to protect her patient. I nearly burst out crying in class.

Meanwhile, I'm cheerfully encouraging my students to go frost cupcakes for hurricane relief. (A local store wanted some volunteers.) It's at times like this that I really wish I worked in a Jewish school, or at least with kids who spoke fluent English. Sometimes I want to tell the kids things I can't communicate to them, about living in the world, and the responsibility we have.

I need to go write a check or something.


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