On August 23rd 2005 our mother earth let us know she was hurting. The effects of global warming and pollution had finally taken their toll to a degree that we could not ignore. Hurricane Katrina shook our sense of safety to the core. She made us devastatingly aware that we are vulnerable and we are responsible.
Not only that but Katrina served as a teacher, as a wake up call, as a symbol to be recognized. Katrina is the result of a climate in distress.
Immediately after the storm, I, like so many watched the devastation on tv. I wished there was something I could do and felt selfish for “hiding out in the north” while my fellow citizens needed me right here in America. But nothing I saw on tv prepared me for the reality that hit me when I stepped off that plane in New Orleans Louisiana 6 months after the storm. With all that time gone by, I thought surely it would look better. It would be cleaned up, some people would be back in their homes, but instead what I found was an entirely abandoned, once alive but now dormant city. I do not say dead, New Orleans will never die and people just like you are the reason why.
The three most valuable lessons that Katrina taught me:
1-I was blessed to be witness to human kind reduced to it’s most basic form. An entire city, with no material possessions to hide beind, no labels, to alienate, separate or reduce. Each was left with the most essential of human experience: family and community are the only thing that REALLY matters. That entire city can be and is being rebuilt brick by brick by volunteers and neighbors.
2-I learned that my generation can not be defined, pigeon-holed as the pop-culture obsessed, self absorbed, gimme generation that we are told we are. In fact, the camp that I stayed at was comprised entirely of students, just like us who were dissatisfied with the response to this disaster. Three thousand college students who gave up their spring break to participate in “the largest volunteer response in history” –according to the Red Cross. Those students gave up their vacation cruises or time with family, to stand in 6 month old mud and sewage to restore a strangers home, who slept in tents and were grateful because they knew they were priviledged to sleep under a roof in a city with thousands of homeless and displaced.
3- I learned that this is the kind of response that is necessary to effect change. We can no longer depend the government to make decisions for us, to respond to disaster for us, to take care of the planet and take care of us. Our mother earth is getting very sick and even the skeptics are quieting down. Even if it’s not as bad as science says, for the first time people are aware of their contribution. This is a necessary step. Each of you has taken it.
I have seen the power of my generation. I have seen three thousand peers ask “If not me, then who?” It is up to us and obviously you all are ready for the challenge.
Soon the fate of the world will be in our hands and today I am assured once again that there are so many interested, intelligent minds, able and willing bodies here to celebrate this beautiful planet, learn from past error and strive for a brighter tomorrow, that we have a chance. Do not be discouraged. Do not be afraid. Today your voice will be heard.