Monday, March 20, 2006

What remains

More bodies.

Seven found this month. Three in the last two days. So badly decomposed, the coroner's office could not even guess their gender. I know, it's disgusting.

I visited Arlington National Cemetery some years ago, and saw the famous Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers. I marveled at the attention given to these nameless defenders. The museum next to their crypts is filled with the medals and decorations from around the world posthumously awarded. So much care, love and respect--I felt proud of my country for making such a fuss over the common soldiers.

And here in New Orleans, going on seven months, with hundreds still missing and unaccounted for, the remains of victims of Hurricane Katrina lie in houses that still have not been searched, or under rubble that still has not been cleared.

The news of yet more bodies being uncovered is sad. But then I heard that they were discovered by volunteer college students, and that made me angry.

What does one say about a nation that will abandon the rotting remains of its citizens who fell as victims of catastrophe? What does one say about a nation that will leave it to the local fire department and volunteers to search for and collect bodies in the wake of such widespread disaster?

I suppose I should not expect so much. This is the same nation that continues to wring its hands over the probable costs to build a significant hurricane protection system, even after more than 1,300 of its good citizens were killed by Nature's unchecked fury.

And I suppose I should be grateful for the students who volunteered to spend spring break here, who are in fact helping where it is needed most. I am. Thank you.

But I worry that the vast majority of Americans are through with this whole episode. They've declared, "Mission Accomplished," and moved on to the next "Crisis du Jour."

Meanwhile, countless unmarked graves await discovery in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. I know, it's disgusting, but that's just how things are in America today.


ashley said...

Brilliant writing, Tim.

Anonymous said...

You are so real in your topics. Thank you for bringing up this topic. It is garish to think about but unfortunately it's a sad reality & my heart breaks for the families who have lost loved ones.

This reminds me, Do you recall seeing a graphic entitled "Where They Died?" and there were numberes correlating to where they found bodies around NO. I think it was produced by the TP & I read/saw the graphic on Dec 26, 2005. I've tried to find it again but it's as if it never existed.
Does anyone else remember seeing the "Where They Died" graphic?

Laurie said...

I'm so sorry. I'm ashamed to say that I never left The Quarter while I was there. After watching so much sadness about the city for the last six months, I was too nostalgic to leave my comfort zone. Perhaps I'll plan a more constructive trip in the near future.

We did leave your lovely city a lot of money though. :)

Sophmom said...

Tim, I was just reading about this in the T-P. It's really unbelievable. I mentioned a post or two ago in my blog that there were ten bodies found between mid-Feb and early March, but, like you I was appalled to read that student volunteers were finding remains. We ought to be ashamed.

Marco said...

Hard to write about. Harder for the families. It's outrageous and sad. You have to keep telling the world. CNN won't.

Tim said...

I was just in town and encountered a bunch of these volunteer kids. I made sure to thank them profusely (often with tears), I don't think the've been getting a lot of thanks judging by the look on their faces.

Tim said...

Ashley--I'm a great admirer of your writing as well!

anon--Yes, I recall the graphic in the paper, but I don't know when it was published. The Times-Picayune's online paper only keeps the last 14 days. You may have to purchase it from their archives. Perhaps they'll run it again; it needs to be updated.

Laurie--No need to be ashamed. We all do what we can do. You did us a great favor visiting and spending, and you do a great service by writing about New Orleans on your blog. We could not ask for more.

Sophmom--We try to pretend like things are normal, and sometimes it works. But there is nothing normal about hundreds still missing and bodies yet to be found. Thanks.

Marco--Thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately, I don't have the reach of CNN.

Tim--It's amazing how much power there is in a few kind words. And that power bounces back--I bet you felt better for doing that, too. Now it's my turn: thanks!

Cade Roux said...

My wife works as an intern counselor (she's studying for her MSW at Tulane), a whole busload of students showed up out of the blue - and needed some help coping with what they had seen.

I like to think that out of all these visitors who are giving part of their lives to help us, some will fall in love with New Orleans, call it home and become New New Orleanians. We don't need the fresh blood, but we do need to know that we're not just crazy to love this place; that there's something special which still remains.

Mark said...

My wife will KILL me for suggesting this, but if you're wife knows of any place she could help, her 3rd to last employer had her trained as a crisis counselor (she was an HR consultant and trainer at the time). Her training was around workplace deaths, etc. She hasn't had to use it in years, and she struggling just to stay sane alone in an alien town until we can join her in June. But I think I'm going to suggest that she should consider thinking hard about how she could use that training in NOLA