When Barbara Bush saw the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the football stadium, she said, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”
When my seven year old daughter Cori saw the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the football stadium, she said, “They had to live on a football field for three days with no food or water?!? That’s mean! That’s not fair! Why didn’t they bring them any food or water?” and she promptly burst into anguished tears.
My daughter had seen the current issue of U.S. News & World Report on our coffee table, and Erin, my wife, went through it with her, telling her what the pictures were. Cori wanted to know. She has the sweetest, most compassionate heart of any human being I have ever met, and she wanted to know about the woman crying on the cover, the people sleeping at the football field, the children her own age now homeless and fighting just to sruvive.
Erin did not embellish anything; she told Cori what the pictures were. And the injustice of the situation was so apparent, even my seven year old daughter could see it. Or maybe ESPECIALLY my seven year old daughter could see it. Maybe my seven year old daughter is capable of seeing things that jaded adults cannot see.
President George Bush chuckles about the time he used to spend in New Orleans having “maybe a little too much fun at times” and laments the destruction of Trent Lott’s enormous home; FEMA Director Michael Brown seems to place blame for the huge death toll squarely on the impoverished people who could not afford to get themselves out of the way of the storm; Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff icily deflects responsibility by asserting that no one had predicted such a storm when in fact just about everyone with any knowledge of the situation was predicting disaster.
What gets me is that these are the people in charge, the people with the power, the people who control the resources. And they just don’t get it. It’s not just about what they are doing; it’s about how they are acting: arrogant, defensive, selfish, detached. It makes my heart ache to listen to them.
At a time like this, I have got to put my hope somewhere. And even though it is not fair to her, I am putting my hope squarely in the sweet heart of my daughter Cori. More than anyone else, her response to the hurricane aftermath is the most authentic expression of human empathy I have heard. “That’s mean! That’s not fair!” She knows that living on a football field with hundreds of other people is definitely not “working very well” for anyone. She knows injustice when she sees it. And she knows that it is all right to cry out in anguish when you need to.