Friday, September 09, 2005

bootstraps

I'm sitting on the second floor balcony of my friend Dave's apartment, writing and smoking and rueing the invention of the leaf blower which is being wielded below me on the last few little sticks of Katrina trash that is left here. I haven't been watching the TV or even listening to the radio, just reading the NY Times and the skinny little Times-Picayune, which is skinny because it's lacking most of its sections, most notably, the Living Section. I say this to say that really the only first hand knowledge I have of the results of the hurricane is what I see here, and here, in downtown Hammond, life is back to normal. It is so strange because I know about downtown 9th ward New Orleans where Douglass High School is located, specificaqlly Douglass because there was an article in one of the papers about the musician Charmaine Neville, whose house was deeply flooded. She lives across the street from Douglass. And the lower 9th ward, where a large number of our students lived, fared worse. God, where are they now? Where's Raymond and Monique and Whitney? Where's K who is theleldest child in her family and is raising the siblings? Where is R who has two babies, whose parents live in a crack house, whose father stole her rent money to buy crack, the young woman I wrote about some months ago for whom our beautiful school found the money to pay that rent?
Yesterday, or a week ago, time has so lost relevance, some woman in some line I was standing in, said she doesn't feel sympathy for those people who ended up in the Superdome because there were buses evacuating people and they chose not to go and so they caused their own problem. That's another one of those "if those people would just pull themselves up by the bootstraps" sentiments. At the moment I was too numb to react but as I think on it, I get sicker and sicker about it. I know she's just ignorant. I know she doesn't understand that these are not people who could be leading middle class lives if only they'd do a little something for themselves. Like it's easy or something. Like maybe my student, RM, the writer I loved so much, whom I cited and quoted so often, the one who wrote about keeping things real. His mother is a crack addict. Could he have just said, come on mother, let's leave this place, and gotten his addicted mother on the bus and out of New Orleans? Leave the ONLY thing they knew? That's been the issue all along. The people who live like that, who live in those poverty stricken areas, have not only no knowledge of the rest of the world, they can't even imagine it. I was getting around to really understanding that at the end of last school year.
The story of Douglass High School that I experienced last year and the first five days of this year has taken on a new relevance. Who they were and what they were, these people I knew in the 9th ward New Orleans, these peole who ended up on roofs and in sewage, walking to the Superdome. These people I knew before Katrina. The story is no longer simply about looking at the school system (though the connection between their school lives and how they ended up is obvious), it's about looking at them. I'm astonished, overwhelmed with gratitude, and in awe, that I had the chance last year to learn what I learned.
And what I know even more clearly than ever is that they, especially my children, need to have someone speak up for them.

Love, Melanie

5 Comments:

Anonymous Cassandra said...

It is like we never know what is around the next corner and how something we percieve as a nightmare, can be one of life's greatest lessons in diguise.

*hugs* and I'm glad to read you are writing...

9:52 PM  
Blogger Clay said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we KNEW who the people are who are trying desperately to better themselves, fighting all sorts of obstacles? They're often the last ones to ask for (or even accept, in many cases) assistance. Yet, they're the ones who would benefit from it the most. Giving to those people isn't a handout, it's an investment by society. The cold har dnumbers tell the tale: they go from being a liability (being paid unemployment, showing up in emergency rooms) to being an asset: paying taxes, supporting themselves and thier family. There's more to it than that, bu that's the easy qualitative equation.



I've often thought of that with hitchhiking: wouldn't it be wonderful if you KNEW a hitchhiker was safe to pick up, or that the next car was safe to ride in. (Maybe I'm just too fearful ;-).

Although the first and only time I hitchhiked I took the first ride, which delivered me from the Atchafalaya swamp (enroute to Lafayette) to USL for scholarship testing).

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Melanie, I'm so happy that you're okay, and I can hear how frantic you must be for your students and their families. I've worried about you -- you've been much in my thoughts, as you can see from this: http://fingerineverypie.typepad.com/my_weblog/2005/09/no_category_sel.html

This situation is so enormously unjust on so many levels. I'm grateful that you're not only safe, you're writing again.

12:32 AM  
Anonymous Julie said...

Whoops -- hi Melanie, that was me in the anonymous comment above. For some reason, blogger wouldn't put my name in.

If you need to get away, you should come visit me in NY. There's a room for you here.

xoxo,

Julie

12:34 AM  
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7:39 AM  

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