Wednesday, September 14, 2005

FAST FORWARD: from Gloria Wade Gayles

Dear Young Scholars:

When I sat down to write something for A Mighty Levee of Compassion, I really didn't know what I would write. Actually, I wanted YOU to write, so much do I want you to claim your space as critical thinkers and as effective writers. Having begun teaching long before any of you were born, I know that the pen dances well with passion, and I have heard and seen your passion about the tragedy in New Orleans. So, I wanted you to write and write and write and write out your feelings and your analyses.

But when the blog space remained empty, Angela Wood, Web content manager at Spelman, told me that I should write something to which you would respond. And that is how I came to write about my guilt. I had no intentions of writing such a lengthy response, but I was not in control. That is what you learn when you write in the first-person. I simply could not stay the memories of my joyous years in New Orleans, a beautiful and historic and historical city where I met the most generous and genuine people I had ever known! I love the city because I love the people. That they have suffered so, to borrow from Alice Walker, "stops the blood."

We have located Jean Taiwo, affectionately called Mama Jean. She is in Atlanta and will probably share her experiences at the symposium we are sponsoring next week. You will find her fascinating! I tell myself that Miss Doris and her family are safe, Zena and India are safe, Miss Corrine is safe, all of the friends whom I have not heard from/about are safe. I believe that Carol is safe because she moved from Gentilly a year before I returned to Spelman. She moved to the West Bank, which was not hard hit. In fact, I think people are returning to communities in that area.

But my pain and guilt deepens when I see flashed on television the number of children who are without kin. "Missing children," they are called. The number is staggering. The tragedy in New Orleans is a twenty-first century "unspeakable horror," Toni Morrison's words for slavery. I cannot imagine not knowing where my son and my daughter are. I cannot imagine giving birth one week and losing my newborn the next week. I cannot imagine not being able to call my sister Faye or visit her or at least know where she is, that she is alive, that she is okay. I cannot imagine having to comfort my son because he cannot find his wife or my daughter because she cannot find her husband. I cannot imagine not being able to break bread with my many cousins, my many friends. I cannot imagine awaking, as my friend Dorothy told me last week, "with two pairs of pants and two shirts to my name." I cannot imagine my uncle, who is wheelchair bound because of a stroke, and my aunt, who has challenges from being a caretaker for eleven years, being lifted from a roof top to a hovering helicopter. I cannot imagine the horror of drowning. I cannot imagine the horror of drowning.

That the people have not become insane, that they have not organized vigilante groups to take down the powers that be, that they say "thank you" on CNN, that they sing songs and dance their praise in makeshift churches--surely this is a testimony to their resilience and their humanity.

All of what we are seeing and they are suffering is a rewind. When do we fast forward to a different reality? Perhaps we need to pause in order to think in order to fast forward.



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