The Lady Speaks


I’ve been trying since Monday to write something about Katrina and the horrors visited upon the Gulf Coast, but honestly, I still can’t find the words to adequately express my sorrow and my fury.

Two years ago, the 31st. The storm had hit two days previous and still there was no help. No National Guard, no Red Cross, no Salvation Army, no water, no food… I watched newsclips via my computer, scanned the blogs, the news sites, waited – like everyone else – to hear that help had arrived. Instead, photos of bodies floating in toxic water, scenes from the SuperDome with people begging for help, Ray Nagin cursing, George Bush on tour as New Orleans residents died from the heat, from the dehydration, from the lack of electricity to keep medical equipment operating and medications refrigerated.

I sat and I watched and I cried. I wrote and answered angry emails, all of us asking just when our government was going to do something. I called my CongressCritter’s office and asked just what the hell was being done to aid those affected by this storm. Sadly, my Critter then was Don Sherwood, and his staffperson’s answer was something on the lines of, “Well, we’re going to be introducing legislation to help businesses affected.”

I literally answered: “Fuck the businesses! What are you doing to get those people food and water, to get them out of there?!”

His reply? “Well, the SuperDome is being used as emergency shelter and federal resources are being mobilized…”

“Are you fucking kidding me?! Turn on CNN, you idiot!”

One of the great archetypical myths in the US is the cavalry riding to the rescue. Five cowboys surrounded by 1500 Indians, or ten soldiers down to their last few bullets, or the hero of the action adventure trapped by five villians with AK-47s, etc., etc., and just when you think they’re done for, the cavalry comes riding over the hill, or the fighter jets/helicopters/bombers start taking out the enemy, or the cops/military/somebody comes out of nowhere with a flamethrower and an RPG built out of duct tape and bubblegum. “Yippee-ki-yay,” and all that happy horse- …er, manure.

We believe in that shit. Or we did. Until we saw an American city drowned and her people left to fend for themselves for days. Until we saw bodies lying in lawnchairs and floating in murky water. Until we saw desperate people begging TV news anchors to get help, saw children crying for food and water, saw Shepard Smith and Anderson Cooper acting like something other than talking-head robots, saw offers of help – from foreign nations and aid groups and from thousands of Americans affected by the scenes of misery pouring from their televisions – were turned away.

On August 31st, I realized that the policy of the federal government was: If disaster strikes, be it a natural or man-made catastrophe – you are on your own.

* * *

Ten years ago, barely the 31st.

I’d just returned home when I thought to check the next day’s weather. Clicking on the news, and seeing the crawl “Princess Diana in Paris Crash,” my attention was diverted. After an hour or so of CNN, I decided to head to bed, figuring I’d keep the radio on in case there were updates.

Just as my head hit the pillow, I heard the overnight DJ: “Repeating, Princess Diana has died.” I went back downstairs to the living room and turned the TV back on. Hours passed, and I watched the sun rise, tears streaming down my face.

I couldn’t even explain it to myself. Still can’t.

I’ve never been an Anglophile, except where history was concerned. I could tell you about the Magna Carta and what it represents, when the Battle of Hastings was, why Mary, Queen of Scots was executed – all sorts of historical trivia that earns A’s on history tests – but the “modern monarchy” wasn’t really all that interesting.

Except for Diana.

I was 12 years old – the prime target audience, you might say – when I watched the 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer step out of a horse-drawn carriage and into St. Paul’s. My sister and I watched, awed by the pomp and circumstance – and by the fact that our mother was letting us watch TV in the middle of the night! For kids allowed a mere hour of television in the afternoon and another one after supper during summer vacation, this was a huge deal.

Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White – they all paled in comparison to the spectacle. In their wildest dreams, Disney had never imagined a fairy tale like this.

Of course, unlike fairy tales, this story didn’t end after the kiss on the balcony. Like all newlyweds who go into marriage thinking everything will be just perfect and that their love will last forever, the wake-up call of reality was a hard slap in the face.

Looking back, I think I bonded with her – as much as one can bond with a screen or print image of a person one hasn’t a chance of ever meeting or even seeing in person – as a mother. Diana obviously adored her sons and doted on them, but she often expressed the desire to make sure her sons understood just how very privileged they were.

People often mention her “personal touch,” and they mean far more than her charm. She often touched the “untouchables” in countries around the world. She used her position to bring a spotlight to the poor, the suffering, the desperate, and she educated by example – holding the hand of an AIDS patient, comforting the homeless, putting a child maimed by a land mine on her lap.

It might have been her beauty that attracted our attention, but it was her heart that captured us.

* * *

And what, you’re wondering, do these two have in common? Nothing really, other than a date.


August 31, 2007 - Posted by | America, Celebrity, Hurricane Katrina, Princess Diana, White House, Women

1 Comment »

  1. Only, that had Princess Dianna lived to see it. She would have been shocked, horrified, and dismayed, and no doubt, would have been making arrangement to get to the USA, and help those people.
    That was what she did.
    What she tried to instill in her sons.
    What the Monarchy never was, and won’t be again, until, perhaps when William is king.
    New Orleans, in fact, much of the Gulf Coast is still devasted two years later. The families who love Dianna are still grieving 10 years later.
    As Wm said, “Many say has it already been 10 years, where I say, has it only been 10 years. For it feels like a lifetime has passed, and stil no end in sight.”
    The residents of The Gulf Coast, are asking us “has it only been 2 years. It feels like a lifetime has passed, and still no end in sight.”
    Those are parallels of tragic events.

    Comment by mom | August 31, 2007 | Reply

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