September 25: My Eyes Are Tired
A member of the Gulf Coast UU Fellowship told a story at this Sunday's service of being out with her grandson one day last week. "Grandma," he said, "can we go home now? My eyes are tired." Like so many others, he was tired of seeing debris and devastation, tired of downed trees, blocked roads, and damaged buildings, and what another member described as "seeing people's lives thrown out on the curb." In Sunday's service, (visiting minister) the Rev. Martha Munson asked people to share what they were missing in life after Katrina. Their answers clearly show the emotional impact of Katrina on their lives:
- "I miss a sense of community. All the different communities I belong to are disrupted. I long for communities to come back together."
- "A sense of balance."
- "Traffic that flows, business that are open, so many things I can't control but that I am a part of."
- "A way to keep my compassion sharp. I have compassion fatigue."
- "A place to rest my eyes."
I must admit, my eyes, too, have grown tired—tired of seeing people in despair and recognizing that there is only so much that outsiders can do. We can give emotional support, we can offer money, we can even provide physical resources, but in the end, it is up to the residents to rebuild their communities, to restore balance, to regain control, to reestablish routines, to renew their compassion, and to recreate places to rest their eyes. What those of us on the outside have to recognize, however, is that this region is a long way from rebuilding and an even longer way from routine.
It's a full month after Katrina and only an estimated 20% of the debris created by the storm in Mississippi has been removed. Reconstruction can't begin until much more is torn down and hauled away. And because residents of the region were displaced throughout the country, many have not yet even seen what is left of their homes and communities. Unless you own property, you are not allowed through the military checkpoints set up along the railroad tracks that run from one side of the state to another ¼ mile north of the beach. Rolls of barbed wire stretched along the tracks create an unwelcome barrier to the once tourist-friendly Gulf Coast. Very little is as it was before the storm and it will be a very long time before life becomes routine again.
The Gulf Coast UU congregation is working hard to hold on to their plans to build their own building and someday, to hire a full-time minister. They are holding out hope that this tragedy will afford them an opportunity to spread liberal religious values and offer an alternative to the religious fundamentalism that permeates the Gulf Coast region. I share that hope, for the need to find a place to be in community and rest our eyes calls out to us all.