Hurricane Katrina, One Year Later
August 29, 2006—On this day one year ago, Hurricane Katrina first made landfall at New Orleans. For the past year, the Rev. Meg Riley, chair of the UUA/UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund, has witnessed first-hand the impact of the storm and its prolonged aftermath on congregations in the devastated region. In the following letter she offers some reflections and finds reason for hope on this solemn anniversary.
Adrienne Rich concludes her 1977 poem "Natural Resources" with these words:
My heart is moved by all I cannot save.
So much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age,
perversely, with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
When I first discovered those words nearly thirty years ago, most of the poem made sense to me, except I had no idea why Rich included the word 'perversely.' What was perverse, I wondered, about reconstituting the world? Wasn't it reasonable, natural, good?
Now I know. It's the "age after age" part that is perverse. It's the not stopping part. In the face of devastation, in the face of powers that seem to mock those acts of reconstitution, it's the ability to believe that those small acts still matter over the long haul.
This past year, working with Unitarian Universalists and others across the land in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I have been proud to cast my lot with the perverse ones. With those who refuse to submit to the devastations wrought by nature and by the failure of those in power to respond, who have worked day after day to reconstitute the world.
The work goes on. It hasn't been easy, and it isn't getting easier. I have learned a great deal about trauma, how it ripples out, shining a harsh light on schisms and broken relationships which already existed, magnifying them until they feel truly unbearable. And then, just at that cliff's edge, an equally clarifying light shines on the healing moments of care and kindness, human contact restores life, and another day goes by.
If I began to name the names of the people, both in the Gulf Coast and throughout our religious movement, who have responded with time, attention, care, and faith, I would be sure to miss someone. So I will just say you know who you are. The Gulf Coast Relief Panel and its working advisory groups, the Trauma Ministry Team, the area congregations, and the many, many volunteers who have traveled to the Gulf Coast deserve all of our thanks.
To mark this anniversary, we have assembled reflections from a few of the folks who have pitched in. I hope you enjoy them, and I thank you again for continuing to cast your lot with those of us who are perverse enough, still, to dare to reconstitute the world.
Rev. Meg Riley
Director, UUA Advocacy and Witness Staff Group,
Chair of the Gulf Coast Relief Fund Panel