Monday, March 31, 2014

"They don't care about us."

These were the words spoken to me by Mr. Harold Brown, a life-long resident of New Orleans.  We were standing on the lawn of his newly-built but not finished and already falling apart house, thanks in no small part to corrupt government practices from local to national levels, to corrupt contractors, and to sleezy family members.  Mr. Brown is 68 years old, losing his vision, and has no where else to go.  Katrina wiped out his livelihood - a fish market business and 10-unit apartment building and after a few years living in Houston in a flop-house (at $75/night) and paying $10 for meals (subsidized by FEMA money that finally ran out), he returned to his house only to find everything inadequate.

The whole story is a tragic nightmare. What is haunting me, however, are the words "they don't care about us."  It is far too easy to align myself with his statement, and to point the finger at politicians and sleeze-bag, greedy contractors and family members. I am sure that, simply because I was standing with Mr. Brown on this sunny, brisk Tuesday, he would not include me in this "they."  But is this really accurate. How much do I really care? Yes, my heart aches, and my blood boils. But is that all?

I don't have easy answers to any of this. I do know that I have to be careful about simply nodding my head and saying "yes they don't care" without taking a deep look at how much I really care as demonstrated by my actions.  I can demand that "they" put more funding into programs, but money was a major part of the corruption as it wound its way through the system with little reaching the ground. I can demand that the corporate exploiters of the region (oil, mostly) clean up their act, but I too like my lights and heat. I know that I can do more to raise awareness, to call on all of us to look around us to see where we might be fooling ourselves as we align with people in these kinds of circumstances.  Even as I attended a Quaker Meeting the Sunday after returning from NOLA, I could not help but notice that, out of 100 people in attendance, the lack of economic and racial diversity is jarring. Is this a true reflection of what it means to care?

In the Book of John, Chapter 9 in the Bible, there is the story of Jesus restoring sight to a blind man.  There is a back-and-forth with the Pharisees about whether it was the blind man or his parents who were the sinners that caused the blindness, or whether Jesus had devilish powers because of his ability to restore sight. Ultimately, what Jesus reminds us is this: it is not a sin to be blind.  The sin is to claim to see.  So, while I can see Mr. Brown's point that "they don't care", I have to be careful not to overlook my own part in this.  It is a blindspot that I might take comfort in, but it is one that will blind me to seeing the hard work, personal commitments and sacrifices we must make to bring justice to these kinds of situations.  It is humbling that it takes the words of a man losing his sight for me to try and open mine.

No comments: