Sometimes an event is so staggering it is impossible to absorb. And so it is with Hurricane Katrina.
We are all involved, and as I watched my television screen, my mind kept jumping around and was unable to stay on any one part of the tragedy for long.
The immediate messenger was television. The reporters stood in front of destroyed houses and debris and told us what they saw over and over again.
First came floods, and then came the rescues. Then, because it was good television, came the pictures of the looters.
The National Guard arrived, but as the waters receded, the blame-sayers went into action.
Why didn't the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predict what would happen in a hurricane of this magnitude? How come the state didn't communicate with the federal government, and how come the latter was so slow going into action? And how come no one knew the Superdome would leak?
Why did the president take so long to tell us the recovery would take a long time? What will it do to the nation's budget? How will Katrina affect the price of gasoline?
Questions . . . nothing but questions.
As I looked at all the destroyed homes, I thought, "People lived in those houses. They had families. All their worldly possessions were washed out to sea."
Was Katrina an "act of God," as some insurance companies may claim? Did it have anything to do with global warming?
It is hard to absorb the numbers. How many dead, how many homeless?
So the hurricane becomes personal. You know people in New Orleans; you know people who knew people.
I know a lovely lady named Ella Brennan. She owned one of the finest restaurants in New Orleans, Commander's Palace. Whenever I went to New Orleans I made the restaurant my first stop. Ella and I talked politics. We thought alike and had many friends in common. It was the conversation as much as the food that attracted me.
At this moment, I don't know where Ella is, but I care very much. Somebody else's tragedy is really yours when you know the people involved. No matter how far we are from the Gulf Coast, we're affected.
I feel stupid writing about the effects of Katrina from so far away. But I would also feel stupid not writing about it.
We will hear about Katrina for weeks, possibly months, and then it will fade away, except for those who were there. They will never get it out of their minds.
We will have congressional hearings, commissions appointed by the Justice Department and, politics being politics, the disaster will become a big issue in the next election.
The jury has yet to be called to decide who was right and who was wrong. Until then, all we can say is, "No man is an island. Ask not for whom Katrina blows; she blows for thee."
(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services