A Time For Understanding

puerto-rico-9-28-17-4I’m enrolled in a continuing education class at Rice University. The professor has spoken of the atmosphere in the United States just prior to Pearl Harbor. Much of the rest of the world was already engaged in conflict but most people in our country were intent on keeping peace and isolating ourselves from the disagreements. My teacher noted that the concerns about either Germany or Japan were most notable in parts of the country that were closest to possible invasions from those respective countries. The east coast was particularly observant of happenings in Europe, while the west coast was watching the Pacific nations. The big middle of the United States was almost blissfully unaware of the looming war in which our country would one day find itself. Such is the way in which we view events. Those of us who have more at stake in particular situations are more likely to have more interest and understanding of them.

I live in a part of the United States that is subject to hurricanes. Each year when the season for those storms arrives I am alert to every change in the ocean waters of the Caribbean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf. I have personally experienced the frightening and devastating effects of hurricanes on multiple occasions. Thus it is that I have a visceral understanding of what it is like to endure both the passage of a hurricane and its after effects. I have had my roof blown away, my fence flattened, my roads made impassible by rising waters, and the flow of power inside my home interrupted by downed lines. I know what it is like to wonder and worry how long it will take to repair the damage and return to normalcy. I have stood in long lines to get food from nearly empty shelves. I have seen my city broken and confused. Such events are difficult even in the best of circumstances when relief pours in quickly and repairs are tackled from volunteers from all parts of the world. When those things do not happen in a timely fashion people get sick. Some of them die. Frustrations and fears begin to form inside even the most calm among us. It is a scenario that I have seen firsthand. I am close enough to such situations to have an idea of how people feel about them.

My father-in-law was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I have learned a bit about that island from him. I know that the people there are citizens of the United States, something that many Americans don’t seem to realize. They serve in the military just as my father-in-law did in Korea. They are free to come and go from their island to the mainland of the United States. Puerto Rico is a territory rather than a state and as such the citizens do not have representation in Congress, but their rights are otherwise much like ours.

The people of Puerto Rico are industrious and generous. I have found them to be interesting and delightful. In my one visit to the island I marveled at the beauty of their land and the depth of their history. I also know that they are even more conscious of the possibility of hurricanes than I am. They build their homes out of cinderblock in anticipation of the arrival of the strong winds of those storms that seem to be almost magnetically attracted to their homeland that sits so precariously in the Caribbean. As with my city every new hurricane season brings the possibility that a storm will hit, and this year was no exception. Sadly the brunt of destruction that the people of Puerto Rico have had to bear has been, as in my city of Houston, more horrific than any in more than eighty years.

In September not one but two hurricanes passed over the island with unimaginable force. The second storm took aim for the center of the territory and left indescribable damage in its wake. Now the people of that island are suffering mightily with little hope for a speedy conclusion to the hurt and pain that has been inflicted on them. The category four winds destroyed buildings and took out power across the entire landscape. Without electricity, with roads damaged and impassable, and with shortages of virtually every major need from food to medicine, the citizens are beginning to panic. I for one intimately feel and appreciate their sense of anxiety because I have only lately lived through the worst flood in the history of our country. The uncertainties of such dilemmas are fraught with fears.

Some would have us believe that the Puerto Rican people are responsible for their own misfortune because they have accumulated debts and neglected the country’s infrastructure. I would argue that such discussions are meaningless, having little to do with what has happened. Our own country is hopelessly in debt and we know for a fact that our roads, bridges and power plants are outdated and in need of upgrades. Nonetheless, natural disasters over which we have no power will visit our towns and cities. When they do it is a waste of time to point fingers and attempt to determine guilt. Our only response should be to render aide as quickly as possible. Such emergencies are not political contests. Nor should they provide opportunities for airing personal grudges. The person who needs dialysis and cannot get it cares little for excuses. The individual who doesn’t know how to store medications that require refrigeration is not interested in debates. Those without water or food only want to know that their hunger and thirst will soon be satisfied. They really don’t care if their aide comes from Republicans or Democrats, governors or presidents. They only pray that someone will recognize their plight and take pity.

We are a generous nation. In fact we are a generous world. I have watched volunteers from all parts of the globe coming to my city to help people that they have never known and whom they will probably never see again. Their motives are kind and generous. They do not expect praise for their efforts. They just want to make life a bit better for those who have undergone terrible loss. So it should be in Puerto Rico.

I understand that it is a bit more difficult to transport workers and supplies to an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, but that challenge should not become an excuse for the chaos that continues to hamper the relief efforts that the Puerto Ricans so desperately need. There should be less talk and more action. That is what saved the day here in Houston, and it is what will get the people of Puerto Rico on a road to recovery more quickly. We also need sympathy and understanding from everyone. Memes and soundbites critiquing those who have been victimized by nature’s fury are the very last activities that should be engaging us. Prayers, supplies and action are the only things that will suffice. We need leaders who will manage the process with loving concern.

Long ago when my paternal grandfather was born his last name was Mack. Those who new me as a school girl will remember that my maiden name was Little. That is because my grandfather was orphaned as a young boy and had to choose a guardian to watch over him. He selected an uncle who was a graduate of West Point. That man was named Little. After a horrible hurricane devastated Puerto Rico near the beginning of the twentieth century he was given the job of managing the relief efforts. History says that his attempts were remarkably effective. My grandfather would have asserted that it was because the man who provided him with his care and his name was a noble and kind man of the highest character. He was successful in his mission because he approached it with kindness and leadership. That is the type of person that we need to put in charge right now, someone who will demonstrate genuine feelings for the people and who will not be afraid to do whatever it takes to get things done.

I pray for Puerto Rico and my heart hurts for its people. I hope that our leaders remember that the people there are just as entitled to our help as any other United States citizens are. We all need to push for the aide and the leadership that they need.

   

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