Friday, September 02, 2005

Convenient detachment

I was sitting in a docs office the other day when a lady in her late 60s came in and sat down. Her and another well dressed woman, probably in her late 40s, stroke up a conversation about the hurricane. It went something like this:

lady in 40s: "Those poor people in New Orleans"
lady in 60s: "Yeah, those folks really are unfortunate. We are so lucky to have the weather that we have, even if it's so cold in the winter".
lady in 40s: "I was there once and I really didn't like it. It was so dirty and everything smelled so musty. It was not a pleasant trip."

They made more small talk about New Orleans and about the weather, not like a tragedy has just happened but like it's melons on sale at the nearby farmers market. It repulsed me about how nonchallant and insignificant it soudned. There are people who have died, people who have lost everything they've had, people who will have to start their lives all over with no tangible memories left. People who are trying to bounce back from something so devestating and here we are, in Sioux Falls, sitting and chatting about those "poor folks".

That lukewarmness in people makes me mad. On the other hand, I don't know what to do, what to say, how to react, what am I supposed to feel when a tragedy like that strikes? The truth is, we won't know how devestating it is because it is not personal in any way to most of us, living here in the safe midwest and we have no idea what it's like to live without electricity or food.

That is the thing about America that I hate. Because it is so big and so rich, the world around becomes so impersonal. People detach themselves, the extent of sympathy doesn't go further then "those poor folks over there" because it's far and because we have not lost anything and there is nothing we can REALLY do about it. At the same time there are people right now for who clean drinking water is luxury.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read this post right after watching a CNN video clip about a man whose house split in half and his wife was washed away when he couldn't hold onto her hand anymore. It made me cry. Not a couple of rolling tears, but actual, shoulders-shaking, rib-wracking sobs.

The impersonalness I think comes from too much media...we hear about New Orleans the same way we watch Ross & Rachel or Paris & Nicole...but when you individualize it and see and hear about specific people - then anyone who remains disaffected is cold, even evil. Yes, I'd say evil.