Blogathon for Pearlington

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

CNN on Pearlington

CNN has new video on Pearlington from this morning's broadcast. Like the previous Pearlington reports, this one focuses on Denise Swanson and her children.

Keep the Story Alive

One year ago today so many things changed in my life and in the lives of the people around me and in the very landscape of my state that it is impossible to name them all. I wish I had something worthy to say now. As if to highlight the fact that life simply must go on, I've been so busy today that I've had almost no time to sit and reflect, and now that I am finally home and able to say something, I'm too tired to think what it is I'd like to say if it were even possible to come up with the words.

Today is the end of the blogging I promised to do for Pearlington, but it is not the end of this blog, and it is not the end of my efforts to help my neighbors on the coast. I leave you this evening with only one thought, and that is to keep talking about Pearlington and keep talking about Katrina in whatever way you can. The rebuilding efforts have only just begun, but it would only be human for many to now lose interest in "last year's news." Don't let that happen. Whatever your own part in this may be, do what you can to keep the story alive.

And thank you. Thank you , America. Thank you for your help, for your love and for your prayers and for your time. Thank you for everything you've done.

God bless you. And God bless Pearlington.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Unknown Victims

Among the other events set to mark the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina tomorrow is the burial of the unidentified storm victims in Gulfport. This is such a poignant way to observe the passing of time and the passing of hope for answers. We can only wish now that we were truly ready to bury the Katrina casualties and move on. Too much is still torn apart with no real idea of when or how it can be put back together, though. We are recognizing the fact that the days have kept passing for one full year tomorrow, but we are not by any means telling the end of the story. Katrina's wake will live on for many years to come.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

On a Clip and a Prayer

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the Pearlington site and watched the CNN clips taken at various times in the past year. Two particular moments stood out to me:

When nurse Angela Cole was asked how the media depictions compared to being there, she said that it was far more devastating and further reaching than the media was able to show, and that viewers were spared the effects on all of the senses, that is, we didn't have to smell the stench of sewage or fight off bugs and mosquitoes.
Her honesty and dedication is humbling: her persistence is admirable.

The second moment came during a piece on Mardi Gras. The town had had a parade, and there were shots of children in their multicolored necklaces having a good time. One of the residents said that she was afraid that viewers outside the area would take this to mean that residents were back on their feet--which they were far, far, from being. Pearlington's restoration is still a work in progress and they need volunteers to continue to come down and help out.

What I admire about the volunteers depicted in the CNN clips is that they keep arriving to help, and they do so without needing external validation. Church groups, med students, fire fighters and others travel to Pearlington to do what must be done.

In a video created by the UBC, Daniel Vestal, pastor, posed this question to his congregation: "What will you do with the pain of people affected by the hurricane?"
And I am reminded of writer Karen Armstrong, who, in researching acts of prayer, describes it as including selflessly doing something for others. The hard work being done in Pearlington by residents and volunteers can be seen, then, as one large, interdenominational prayer.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What to Read?

Hello again! Sharon has asked me to pinch hit for her this weekend, and I'm glad to be here. Though I haven't been writing, I have been reading Sharon's posts, and, as the school year begins, I can't help but to think of all of the students in Pearlington who are heading back to school. I wonder what they have in the way of recreational reading--in fact, I wonder what the whole town has in that regard. My guess is, not much.

Because reading anything in your down time is good for you and sets a good example for your kids, I'd like to find ways to get books to Pearlington--to either augment an existing library space or to give each person a gift book. What I don't want to do is to open the town up to a flood of very used books that are too worn out to read. And yet, having spent the last two weeks packing and sorting my books, I do know that I've sent some decent books to Goodwill that could just have easily gone to Pearlington.

So, here's what I'd like to propose-how about a "Buy a Book For Pearlington" drive this Fall? We could canvas those of you who live in Pearlington about what books you'd like to have, and then set up a wish list on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, so that contributors would be able to send a book directly. Hmmmmm. The only problem with that is what happens when you're the one person on the wishlist who doesn't get anything? What can we do about that?

This is an idea that is worth pursuing, and I'd like feedback from everyone, Pearlington residents and blog readers alike.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Race, Poverty, Tragedy

The Hattiesburg American has a good editorial today about the slow recovery of the disadvantaged from Hurricane Katrina. We've all heard the complaints of racism in the relief responses, and I've been wanting to say something about this, but I haven't been quite sure what to say.

Katrina was no racist. Everyone in her path took the same beating. The resulting deaths and losses are not about race; they're about human beings. Yet we all know that when everyone is hurting a pecking order emerges, and some get help faster than others. My neighborhood is close to a main road, but it was a week later getting power back than my sister's more affluent neighborhood. These things happen. When there are so many needs, it is impossible to get to everyone at once. Someone has to come first, and someone has to come last.

Were priorities set in the Katrina recovery based on race? I don't know. Fortunately for me perhaps, I didn't see any of the TV coverage that has evidently infuriated the rest of the country. I was spared the feelings of helplessness in watching tragedies unfold that I could do nothing about because I was cut off from the outside world by that same storm. In the first few days after the storm, we heard very little news. Even radio towers had been knocked down. We were just busy cleaning up and figuring out how to get by. We didn't know what other people were doing.

Perhaps because of that I don't have the same sense of outrage at the government response that others have expressed. The first time I knew of any FEMA supplies coming to my town was on Thursday, three days after the storm. If I understand correctly, that's about when they really started getting people out of New Orleans as well. At the time, it all made sense to me. I don't think they could have gotten to us any faster. The roads were blocked with so many thousands of trees that I still see it as a miracle that they got to us when they did. New Orleans would have had the added difficulty of bridges being destroyed. In the best of times, there are only so many ways in and out of that city. With bridges out and roads blocked, the obstacles to getting help through to New Orleans were beyond measure.

Of course we all hope that the government has enough resources to save its own people in the wake of disaster. It seems like something could have and should have been done faster and better than it was. How much of that is about race or poverty and how much of that is about lack of preparation and lack of fortitude to make quick and forceful decisions, I just can't answer.

Regardless of all of that, though, the poor have less to draw on to help themselves recover. The poor have fewer resources to lobby for their own causes. Thus, government answers to rebuilding concerns have been slower to reach them.

What we need from the government now is not just help with housing but help with economic recovery. In many cases, like in Pearlington, Mississippi, the infrastructure to provide jobs so that the poor and the under-prepared can even begin to start helping themselves is just not there. Failure to address that now will only mean that problems created by Katrina, as blind to issues of race and class as she may have been, will continue to grow rather than to diminish as more and more time passes.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Salvaged Art

Shown above is a Walter Anderson watercolor, "Reddy Red Head." It's just one example of Mississippi's great works of art that have been salvaged from ruined galleries and museums on the coast.

From the Clarion Ledger...

A new exhibition at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel is a Who's Who of
the state's artists and a reminder of the hurricane that almost washed it out to
Saved from the Storm: The Sarah Gillespie Collection at William Carey
University, Friday through Nov. 12, features works that survived the storm
intact and several works that have been conserved.
"It is a terrific overview
of Mississippi art. The collector did a tremendous job making sure artists were
represented, and goes into great depth in terms of particular artists," Lauren
Rogers museum director George Bassi said.
"It's the Who's Who of visual
artists," featuring big names both historical and contemporary, such as Karl
Wolfe, Walter Anderson, Theora Hamblett and more.
It's considered the most
complete collection of art produced by Mississippians during the 20th century,
collection curator Iris Easterling has said.

No discussion of relief efforts in Pearlington would be complete without mentioning Iris Easterling of University Baptist Church who worked tirelessly all through the year to make sure families had their FEMA starter kits so that they could qualify for trailers and to make sure children had Christmas presents and many other needs were met. And no discussion of Iris Easterling would be complete without mentioning her other tireless endeavor of moving the Sarah Gillespie Collection from the ruins of the coast to a new, safer home in Hattiesburg.

To read more about the Gillespie Collection, visit the William Carey web site.

And if you are in the area, don't miss the Gillespie exhibit at the Lauren Rogers Museum this fall.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Eyes on Debby

Debby is way out there, and it really doesn't look like she's going to become a problem for us, but any storm activity this time of year (as we approach the Katrina anniversary) bears watching.