Sunday, September 25, 2005


No one can say America failed to get its act together this time, in face of Hurricane Rita.
Warned and chagrined by the devastation wrought only weeks ago by Hurricane Katrina, the US was ready and set for all systems to go to cope with the worst the storm could throw at it.
As television and Internet reports showed the old and ill being evacuated from hospitals, hundreds of buses on hand to move those with no transport of their own and two million people gridlocked on Interstate Highway 45, all the resources of the Federal, State and local governments were poised ready for action.

Equally no one can deny human powerlessness against the might of Nature, which tosses and discards people like mere bagatelles when the rain falls and the wind blows, with no more regard for their importance or status than it holds for the humble amoeba.
Global warming/climate change may or may not have contributed to the ferocity of the hurricanes which have lashed the Gulf Coast of America. But they are a salutary reminder that though we may have the technology to plunder the earth, rip down rain forests, genetically modify crops, clone animals, drill the planet for oil till it runs out, pump the air full of carbon till the ice melts and explore space, we cannot manage or subdue Nature when it gears up.
Man, the most intelligent and resourceful of animals, cannot bomb a hurricane out of existence, divert its course or dissipate its energy.
For millions in the Third World the force of Nature is a constant reality. Their shabby shacks and shanty towns are regularly destroyed and blown to kingdom come by wind, fire and flood. Their crops die back into the earth when the rain fails or get guzzled in the fields by plagues of locusts, and they have no water when rivers or wells dry up.
In the cosseted physical comfort of the developed world, with our all-mod-cons homes and water, light and heat instantly available at the turn of a tap or press of a switch, most of us feel safe and protected from the ravages of Nature most of the time. And so confident in the material progress we have made, particularly in the last hundred years, that it is easy to forget that we too live on a very fine edge and our veneer of civilisation can be wiped out in hours or in a night.
When Nature strikes on a grand scale we are as naked in the world as we were in our earliest days on Planet Earth.
It strikes savage blows not only at our physical comfort and resources, but at our identity and sense of ourselves. Psychologically, we are stripped bare. Our belief that we count and matter and that our lives have a purpose seems gone with the wind.
Just who are we without our jobs and homes and material possessions?
It is a question to which thousands of Americans must find the answer.
To fight back and rebuild their lives in such circumstances, people need to believe they are more than what they possess and worth more than what they have lost. This need too has been there since the beginning along with the ability to find such inner strength.
We like to think that sometimes at least good can come out bad. We need to hope that this is so for the people whose lives have been disrupted and shattered by the hurricanes and they can make fresh starts to better lives than they had before the rains and the winds came.
If there is anything the rest of us can learn, it may be that striven-for and highly-prized material success is not all when the tectonic plates of our lives shift and no true measure of who we are.
Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved