Talking About The Weather
Let's talk about the weather.
It is, after all, what we all do when we are at a loss for other, more meaningful words. I've done it a million times, as I wait in elevators that race up the stories of huge metal buildings, speaking about sun or rain to the people next to me. I walk down the avenues of my city, bumping into an old friend or a new acquaintance, and I stand there awkwardly amidst the buses and cars and crowds that I think of as permanent, searching for just the right words to sum up the latest forecast. "Can you believe how hot it's been?" I offer, then drift away along sidewalks, down streets, into buildings that I've given names to: office, library, church, school. Home.
The weather is my key to a world of easy words. I use it as my very own social umbrella; it protects me in uncomfortable situations from saying anything real. Instead of talking about anger or fear or happiness or envy, I snap it open: black, generic, flimsy, instant, it spreads over a conversation and I can say simply, "I've been fine, thanks. Wish all this rain would stop," when what I might want to say is, "Things have been very hard lately," or "I'm fantastic. I'm in love." Instead, SNAP!, I bring out the pleasantries. I excercise my own detachment. I talk about the weather.
Then, something like Hurricane Katrina happens, and I can't talk about weather. Literally, I cannot. To say aloud trivial things like, "Hot enough for you?," when other people, in cities so much like my own, have had to say aloud things like, "I tried so hard, but I couldn't hold on to her," is unconscionable.
And this time we live in demands speech and actions that are, above all else, filled with conscience.
For me a big part of responding conscientiously to an event like Katrina comes from informing myself. So, immediately following the Hurricane I did what everyone did. I watched the news. I read The Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Federalist Patriot, Moveon.org--you name it, I devoured it. My intention was to become engaged with this tragedy. To let it effect me, so that, I could learn from it and make sure that it was not repeated. I wanted immediacy.
What I got was distance.
Again and again, in large ways and small ones, I felt as though I was being encouraged to slip back into detachment. The language of the articles wanted me to think of these people as "other," as separate from myself. The citizens of New Orleans became "animals," became "looters," became "thugs." The politicians, our leaders, set their example by beginning a massive effort to simply change the subject. Beginning the first day after Katrina had struck, they slyly introduced the blame games and finger pointing in an effort to keep up appearances. Horrified, I watched as government officials chose to spurn consciousness, instead clinging to trivialities and empty politics--effectively still talking about the weather--even as they stood on streets filled with bodies rotting in the sludge that the Hurricane left behind.
It continues today. In the pages of The Times and on my CNN tv screen, I see that blame has quickly become the trend in Post-Katrina disassociation. An effective one, too. Given the number of budget cuts and bad decisions that preceeded this catastrophe, the hunt for people to blame will be fruitful.
And it will be futile, as useless as finding the drop of rain or gust of wind that sent this hurricane screaming toward our shores.
Time will step in soon, as well, and contribute its interminable chit-chat to helping us forget. The stories that pierce our indifference now--the ones about women being gang-raped in the Super Dome, people making telephone calls just before drowning in their own attics--will disappear and be replaced by Movie Of The Week's starring Faye Dunaway as the Governor Kathleen Blanco. And SNAP! We will bring out the pleasantries. We'll return to our world of easy words.
And I wish we wouldn't. That's all. I just wish we would stay here awhile, in this space of loss and recovery. Saying aloud the things that are difficult. Speaking with meaning. Telling the stories that matter and repeating them again until we know their real message:
That we are flawed.
That we are temporary.
That we are connected.
That we are blessed.