I keep seeing these pictures my head. On the news last week, reporters filmed a young mother panic-stricken and sobbing over her dehydrated baby, who was cradled in her arms, listless and pale.
Before Katrina even hit, a woman told another reporter that she, her boyfriend, and her three-year-old daughter were going to wait out the storm on their boat. On their boat?
A third mother was separated from her two children – a toddler and an infant – when they were taken by bus to safety in an unknown location while she had been pushed to the ground by others who desperately wanted to get on the bus and didn’t think about what pain they were causing by tearing a mother from her children.
I want so badly to know that these three families survived intact. I want a follow-up show on the news to track these three mothers down and show them relieved and safe and together with their fully-recovered children. But I know the reality is that even if these three families made it through safely, hundreds or thousands more did not. For every baby who was given water or formula just in time, many other people never felt relief, never woke to find that the immediate nightmare was over.
And then I am ashamed that life goes on for the rest of us.
My husband and children have been sick with a chest cold for the past week, and medicine for them is easy to find. Water is available when we turn on the faucet. Campbell’s Vegetarian Vegetable soup (now certified kosher by the OU!) is at the local well-stocked grocery store.
Our biggest recent stress was refinancing the house, enabling us to get away from a contender for the Worst Mortgage Company Ever in Existence. And while I was stressed about whether this would happen or not, I was constantly aware that at least I had a house.
I donated what I could to relief efforts. There isn’t much more I can do, and I hate that feeling of helplessness.
The truth is that we have an obligation to survive, to continue on. We can – and should – give wherever and whatever possible, but we can’t let our own families, communities, or ourselves come to harm. Bills still must be paid, medicine bought and administered, food cooked, even houses refinanced and Bad Evil Mortgage Companies avoided.
My heart goes out to the people who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The pictures I’ve seen tear at my emotions and break my heart. I don’t want to imagine what I would do in their situation. I can’t bear the thought of being separated from my children, or losing family members. I think of the victims and survivors often. I pray.
And even though I know our lives must go on, it’s hard not to feel conflicted – both grateful and pained – when I give my family medicine and tuck my children safely in their beds.