Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Troubled Regions: Moore, Oklahoma

I often taught one of Adrienne Rich’s fine poems, Storm Warnings, a poem that uses weather outside our safe havens as a metaphor for weather inside our troubled hearts. One of my former students posted the final lines in reaction to the terrible tornado May 20, 2013 in Moore, OK: These are things we have learned to do / Who live in troubled regions.

I believe he posted these lines in tribute to the thousands affected by a second F5 wind dropping from the sky. He is from the area and though he lives far away now, he remembers how the people of Moore think and act. He knows that they will rush to help their neighbors. He knows that they are rooted to that land and most will rebuild there. He knows that many believe God tried and tested them, wrapping His Grace around those who climbed whole from the rubble while calling Home those who did not. They prayed and believe that God answered in His infinite wisdom.

These truths about those who live in Moore have been conveyed by newsreaders, the few true reporters who still actually investigate catastrophic events, and writers with some experiential knowledge of Moore’s citizens. And those citizens have also been subjected to plenty of insensitive clods. One offensive remark was spoken, then repeated so often that it became part of the story, the preface if you will. Folks from other places wanted to know why Oklahomans live in Oklahoma as if an accident of birth is a choice, as if in-state tuition were not a magnet keeping many in the state once they begin their adult lives, as if employment options are so much better elsewhere, as if those folks from Main Street, not Wall Street, have plenty of money to pick and move.

Such a question must then be asked of Africans who continue to live in war-torn nations, Afghanis who endure foreign invasions and religious strife, anyone and everyone who dwells near the ocean where hurricanes and tsunamis swell and destroy. Ask those folks along New Jersey’s shore why they are rebuilding.

We must also ask those who live in homes perched upon hills rising from California’s fire-prone canyons. We must examine the motives of those who choose to live along earthquake fault lines, and by all means, let’s get to the bottom of those folks who’ve allowed fracking on or near their land, only to continue living  there after their ground water has become toxic, even flammable. Yes, let’s ask folks why they live with Nature. Let’s find out why they do not, cannot secure themselves against all potential deadly force, man-made or natural.

They stay because the unimaginable is unimaginable. That two F5 tornadoes would scar the same ground is unimaginable. That a home would be reduced to rubble by a wind is unimaginable. That school children would not survive inside a solid concrete structure is unimaginable. That an earthquake at sea would turn whole Japanese villages into memories is unimaginable. Most human minds skip away from thoughts of their own mortality and certainly do not dwell upon possible catastrophic losses.

Equally irritating is the implied indictment in the question about living in troubled regions. The interrogator seems to believe that blame can and must be placed upon the victim, but to do so is cruel. No one in Moore or Japan or California invited the sky to fall upon them. They are not to blame for being in the path of disaster.

And they should not be asked to pull on their cowboy boots, tuck the cowboy hats upon their heads, pull on heavy leather work gloves, and tame another frontier without the aid of government. They should receive as much help as is available, including but not limited to counseling, construction, and money.

But Governor Mary Fallin doesn’t seem to think so even though she played more nicely with President Obama during his visit Sunday, May 26, 2013 than any of us expected. After all, she’s defied the nation and left thousands of constituents suffering by taking a firm ideological stand against the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. She’s also on board with ALEC’s collaboration with the national Chamber of Commerce to slash personal income taxes, another ideological posture antithetical to President Obama’s initiatives to invest in the nation through raising revenues. Consequently, OK’s education, highway, and bridge repair funds shrink while schools, highways and bridges crumble.

So it was not much of a surprise when Governor Fallin spoke for Moore’s citizens and refused $1,200 debit cards to be given to those who need to find a kennel for their pets, pay a deposit on an apartment to live in while their homes are rebuilt, buy bottles of water and hot food for their children, rent a car to drive. That $1,200 would have been put to good use, and for many of those middle-class working families, $1,200 would have granted to them a measure of independence at a time when Moore’s citizens are dependent upon insurance agents, First Responders, road crews, contractors, and elected government officials who seem bent upon making an example of them with or without their consent.