The knees of the proud and happy City of New Orleans are not broken, but they have buckled, and the City staggers as we close our day in Chicago. In New Orleans, though, this day will not close â€“ it will continue like a stupor until somehow, someway, the waters can be dried up, the homes can be flushed out, the lines of communication reestablished, and order finds its way back home so the work of rebuilding and restoring can begin. The night of chaos and crime will only slowly brighten into the dawn of day â€“ one can wish that it would all go away at once, but it wonâ€™t. Night is upon that City.
How that Night came is a story easy to tell â€“ Katrina is merely the name of a hurricane. Water is what she brought, and wind is what drove her forward up the Gulf to slam into the coastal cities and communities. Water and wind, primary elements, were tossed furiously like fire brands into a City unprepared for such ferocity. Homes were destroyed, tokens that trigger memories were washed into the streets, and children were separated from moms and dads, and family members from family members, and people died from a lack of food and medical attention, and desperados turned to crime and looting. Never, so many fear, will their world be the same again â€“ never, they say to themselves, will I see my home and my bedroom and my books and my jewelry and my neighborhood. Never again will I stand on the same street and know where I am. That place, they fear, is gone â€“ swallowed into the Night and blown by ferocious wind into another place.
Even the reporters were stunned â€“ Geraldo wept outside the Convention Center and others were simply incapable of finding what they are masters of â€“ words. Night can stun.
Why the Night was so devastating is not easy to tell, but it is the darkest Night known to American weather. Was it the stupor that Night brings? Was it racism that staggered the Feds? Was it â€¦ what it was we will be asking for a long time.
But, Night has the evocative power to summon generous lights, at first merely flickering on a landscape too deep in Night to give notice. The lights flickered far too long. A few short days quickly became an eternal Night for the multitudes — the numbers stagger — who are dying and suffering from the simple lack of nutrition and reaping the whirlwind of crime. Those few days of flickering lights are now growing into more light, as thousands of humans feel the pain and respond as they can. Texas has opened its arms, as have other States opened their checkbooks and yet others their homes and shelters. Doctors have given their time and talent, and ordinary people are doing what they can â€“ opening boxes and sorting clothing and serving food and cleaning bathrooms and doing whatever they can because they care. Lots of flickering lights can penetrate the Night. But more are needed.
What we can do now is give and work â€“ give of our funds and our clothing and our food to help alleviate the immediate suffering. And work if we are called to help.
What we can also do is hope that we can learn â€“ oh, yes, at the expense of New Orleans we will learn what it takes to stiff-arm Category 5 Katrinas and Kurts now lying in wait. We will learn how to guard a City like New Orleans, now smothered with Night, with taller levees and better walls and more powerful pumps and better plans for what happens when a City goes Night all at once and its knees buckle under the weight of water and wind.