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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Nine Lives in a Post-Katrina New Orleans ...

This post - like myself - is a work in progress and will likely be edited several times before I'm through - thanks for bearing with me lol :)

As mentioned, I've been on a New Orleans kick recently.  I've read one book, which was meh, okay - but now I'm nearly finished with a fairly good read called "Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Life and Death in New Orleans,"  by Dan Baum.

It's essentially the story of 9 real people, whose lives at least briefly intertwined and interconnected in New Orleans, from just after Hurricane Betsy to Hurricane Katrina - from those in the lowest run of society in the 9th Ward, all the way up to a transplanted Texan-turned-NOLA cop who changed his racist ways, to a one-time King of the Rex Mardi Gras Krewe to Dr. Frank Minyard, NOLA's long-time, jazz-trumpet-playing coroner. 

All the way through the book, I kept saying, "So ... where's the 'mystery and magic' part?" 

Wait for it ... because it finally just today hit me lol.  And it's not the kind of 'magic' you think  :)

So, I'm now near the end - just after Katrina, when the levees broke (for those who don't know, the levees broke just after the storm had passed). 

I started to put the book down, because Katrina was the beginning of  a difficult time in my life personally.   I was living near the area, in Pensacola. 

Katrina was our third hurricane that year.  Katrina was only a category 2 for us, but we were digging out of 2 that year already, Hurricane Ivan knocking half the city down. 

(I actually claim there were 4 hurricanes for me personally, due to the hurricane-like antics of my exhusband).  The first hurricane, Hurricane Ivan, wiped many homes to matchsticks. 

It was the beginning of a snowballing, a long struggle from which I thought I'd never recover - but I did :)

Regardless, our already overburdened/price-gouged city was  barely standing itself after two hurricanes, began taking in people just as fast as we could, more pissed off for New Orleans than we were for ourselves, at all the price-gouging, lack of city, state, and federal efforts, the aid pouring in for utilities and businesses and yet businesses still jacking their prices up.  

I remember paying a $300 electric bill by December of 2005, for a 2-bedroom apartment, despite going 6 weeks without power with Ivan, 2 weeks with Dennis, and 2 with Katrina - the utility company stating they had to "recoup" their losses, despite being the first one to receives millions in state and federal aid - as if it was our civic duty to pay their bills - bills we didn't even create.

And if we took aid as citizens?  Fuhgetabout it, you had to pay it back on our taxes the next year - which is why I didn't take any ;)  

Other scams ensued and were rampant - like roofing contractors, taking advantage of the already economically deprived area, people unable to work due to power being out for 5 weeks or their businesses destroyed - they just took your cash and ran.  

Or insurance companies refusing to pay (two major ones, which wound up being sued in class action).

I received calls from my doctor's offices, the schools, etc., asking if it was okay to bunker people there, to take reschedule my appointment on behalf of "refugees"  - which I of course said "yes" too immediately.

However, I always thought "refugee" was a strange term to use.  I mean, we didn't call displaced 9/11 victims "refugees" - so why these people?  Because some were poor?  Because they were people of color?

These people weren't escaping some war-torn country - they were my fellow countrymen, women, and children - who went through a natural disaster - one that could've been avoided, if corrupt, city, county, state, and federal officials had done their jobs properly - and was later whitewashed as if it didn't happen, despite the fact that Katrina killed nearly as many people as were killed in 9/11. 

Regardless, it was a war zone of sorts, just the same, I suppose.

I kept reading - not only because it told the personal stories of things we already saw and knew - but things I didn't know. 

For example, Frank Minyard, NOLA coroner for 40 years, claims that the local police, state police, 89th airborne, national guard, DMORT, FEMA, and DMORT all stepped up to offer to retrieve the bodies, but were all told to "stand down" until word came "from the top" about what to do with the bodies.

Finally, 10 days later, SCI (Service Corporation International) came in to retrieve the bodies, and it became clear why the wait - the federal government had contracted a private, multinational funeral home service corporation to do it.

In other words, not only did local, state, and federal government hesitate to evacuate, rescue, and send aid, but Frank claims they knowingly ordered first-responders and the military to "stand down" from retrieving the bodies  -  letting hundreds of bodies rot where they lay on the streets of New Orleans for 10 days - simply because local, state, and federal government officials were taking private contract bids for cleanup, to include body collection - companies that politicians either likely had shares in  themselves, or their political campaign donors did. 

As DMORT began to identify the bodies, then came the pressure - at all government levels - for Frank to write down that they all drowned on their death certificates as cause of death.

Of course, Frank refused - and demanded that each body be autopsied for actual cause of death, because he knew many died from lack of medical assistance, food, water, heat exhaustion - some were homicides, nursing home neglect/abandonment, even euthanasia at some healthcare facilities  - on local, state, and federal government's dime :)  

However, they did cut off his funding for this, after a time ... keep reading.

Though admittedly no saint himself (like everybody else in this book), he nevertheless grew up just this side of poor himself, on the edge of the ninth ward - and recognized he had opportunities and trust handed to him, that others in his community - just as highly intelligent he was, didn't - because of the color of his skin; thus, e never forgot where he came from or the people he swore he'd grow up and serve. 

And he was a terrible politician to boot, meaning in the best of ways (he often would speak without thinking, as humans do - often exactly what he thought or suspected, before all the medical evidence was back - but he was usually correct).   Remarkable for a coroner to be a terrible politician, because it's an elected position, but that was apparently Frank - too forthcoming and direct - but in the best of ways :)

He mostly derived the position by simply being the top OB-GYN in New Orleans, treated the wealthiest in his snazzier uptown and St. Charles/Garden District offices, as well as the poorest, via sliding-fee-scale offices in the poorest neighborhoods twice a week.

In other words, for the first 20 years of his career, Dr. Frank Minyard brought the wealthiest babies and poorest babies into this world in New Orleans - black, creole, and white - into this world in New Orleans, he'd be damned if they went out without proper identification, cause of death, and burial :)

He  retained the position of medical coroner, for 40 years until stepping down in 2014, in part due to the increasingly polarized political environment, part because he admittedly was exhausted, after working tirelessly and for years to identify Katrina victims, investigate causes of death, etc.

However, despite all of his quirks, he is much beloved by most of New Orleans because of his fight to identify, investigate, and memorialize Katrina victims.

Such as pushing for the proper burial of 99 unidentified at Charity Cemetery (which reduced to 30 by 2015) and demanding some of the funding pouring in for the "new Charity Hospital" (which never arrived, see below) go to a Katrina Memorial. At the point where there were 99 he couldn't identify or determine cause of death, his funding was cut off and at first could not get government approval or funding for a proper burial for them.

However, he finally did manage it, as well as pushing for an official Hurricane Katrina Memorial site; however, unlike 9/11's memorial - though nearly as many people were killed (partly due to our own own negligence) - it allegedly received no state and federal funding - it was build primarily through city aid funding, private donations making up the rest ...

... though it looks big in the picture, if you note the size of the surrounding houses, it's actually very small - tucked away in a behind-the-way area of town, built in the shape of a hurricane -   and the remains of the 99 unidentified bodies (nor reduced to 30 unidentified) are interred in the mausoleum there. 

Frank knew they were all skimming off the top and making money off the disaster, either through privatized clean-up contracts, kickbacks, or straight up embezzlement of government money, from Bush and Cheney to the governor's office on down to Mayor Nagin (but of course, only Nagin was tried and convicted) - and he was pissed at all the funding pouring in for Charity Hospital that went where, we don't know. 

Though the number would eventually drop from 99 to 30, that "99" number stuck with me, reminding me of Matthew 18:12 in the bible ...

Dr. Frank Minyard, imperfect disciple of Christ, refusing to play politics - was doing exactly what Jesus would do, in determining how each one of those victims died, identifying them. and making sure they received proper burial  :)

Of course, he, like we, have heard the same horrifying "excuses " not to help people then as we hear not to help the people today; and worse, treat them without mercy - from refugees from other countries or even within our own, like in in Flint, Michigan, in their water crisis:  "They're all lazy welfare rats and thieves anyway, trash" - as if even if that were true, rather than reality, they deserve to die over it? 

You think they wanted to be?

You think they could afford to be better educated to do anything else?

You imagine it's that easy to break out of that life they grew up in or that you could do so yourself in that world?

You think God sees them in the merciless way you do?

Do you think you could survive even one day in their world without crumbling and crying in the corner?

I doubt it. 

In fact, I dare those of you living in your suburban ivory towers, crying for days because you have the sniffles or because you stubbed your toe - whining about Greta Thunberg or LGBTQ or whatever minor political slight you saw on Fox News from your safe armchair, or because you can't afford to go on your yoga retreat or your wine vacation in Europe again this year - to try to live, or even survive, for even 1 day in the world these people had no choice but to grow up in.

You imagine that you're where you are in life due to your own hard work compared to the poor, and that you did it without help from anyone - instead of realizing you're just lucky, and that you were born in the lap of luxury in comparison, with parents and grandparents that sacrificed much for you to succeed, but who also could afford to make sure you succeeded.

And I guarantee you, from personal experience in both waged and professional fields myself -- people in minimum wage jobs are working physically harder than you do, with less breaks.

I never worked as hard as I did when doing a minimum-wage job or waiting tables - for a lot less pay, less benefits, and no breaks due to ignored labor laws (because they know minimum wagers are too poor to get lawyers and sue and no one would listen to minimum-wage employees versus companies anyway). 

However, surprisingly, the most affecting story was the Texan-cop transplant, born and bred true Republican racist, seemingly compassion-less Nazi (but at least non-dirty) cop, who admittedly enjoyed authority a little too much before Katrina, and previously sometimes resorted to police brutality to subdue suspects - over little crimes - by the name of Tim Bruneau.

Before Katrina, he was shot, fracturing his skull with the fall, after chasing down a young kid for vandalism in effort to "clean up New Orleans" - that's trauma #1.  Then came Katrina, trauma #2. 

Those stories that came out about "thugs" shooting at cops "trying to help them" in New Orleans? 


Tim says he doesn't know about every incident, but in his personal experience, he readily he admits, he shot someone during the chaos and panic, himself - it was pure chaos, people on both sides just shooting, sometimes out of fear of threat or just shooting off their gun, like screaming in vain at the sky during the storm.  

And Bruneau says cops were looting at Walmart right along with everyone else - not because they were bad people, but because in the end, this is human survival instinct in it's rawest, purest form.

But what changed this hardened, racist's cop's tune was picking up a body out of the street after the storm had passed, but before the levees broke and the water came in. 

It was a 24-year-old girl who had wandered out into the storm to buy crack to cope, being unable to afford to leave, who'd been hit in the back of the head and killed instantly by a lamp post. 

He picked her lifeless body up off the ground, joked about her being a "dumb B" and tried to take her to Charity Hospital.  

For those who don't know, Charity Hospital was the hospital for the poor and uninsured for nearly 300 years. 

It was the hospital for indigent critically ill and trauma victims, as well as the morgue for the impoverished dead, right in the heart of New Orleans - and it shut down as Katrina hit and has since been abandoned. 

Though there were many heroic doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff that scrambled with critically-ill patients to the top of the hospital when the flooding came, holding bag-mask intubation in with their bare hands for hours, even days, for rescue that came too late ...

... Charity Hospital's administration itself unfortunately implemented a policy to otherwise evacuate the sickest and most injured patients last, resulting in deaths of people who ordinarily would've been saved (and some staff report doctors even euthanized some on the spot).

Despite a reported $2 billion dollars both private and local, state, and federal aid pouring in beginning several months after Katrina, political arguments ensued for years about where the money for Charity Hospital was going, went, and "should" go instead, with many people believing the funds should go to "better use."

The hospital finally reopened in 2015, but a "better" part of town, and under a new name - without the "indigent" or "charity" associations  - now called the "University Hospital of New Orleans," owned by LSU.

There have been several plans for what to do with the old hospital site, but none of have come to fruition.

Thus, Charity Hospital sits empty and abandoned, in the same spot it sat for nearly 300 years - right in the heart of downtown New Orleans as an unintended memorial for what occurred during Hurricane Katrina - a silent but formidable reminder to never forget and never to repeat history. 

Some people now claim it is haunted - not helping, were these eerie pics, photographed by by Tulane University employees, working across the street from the abandoned Charity Hospital, on December 29, 2015 (exactly 10 years and 4 months to the day after Katrina) - this photo is provided by ABC News the day several employees captured the light on their cell phones ... 

The Tulane employees weren't sure of what to make of it, but assumed it was a Christmas inspiration somebody had set up, to bring hope - either that or as an eerie Christmas reminder not to forget what happened there, the callous lack of regard for human life. 

I'm sure it was a Christmas hoax, despite nobody coming forward - and yet it is a bit odd because the building has no electricity (other than exterior lights at the bottom for security), and it would take a lot of battery power to power a light that bright all night - plus it's fenced and extremely difficult to get into, with security still hired to patrol the building at night - no ghost-hunters, vandals, or explorers allowed, at any time.

Spookkkkyy, huh? :)

Back to our story ...

Charity Hospital told Officer Bruneau they were shutting down and rerouted him to University Hospital - who proceeded to tell him ..

"We're not going to set a precedent, here, of collecting the city's trash."

Something about the way the hospital administrator said that started to wake him up to reality, from his racist, compassion-less, dream.

As the body of the girl lay in the back of his cop car and he drove around, he began "losing it," and began having a conversation, an argument with the dead girl, in his head (really arguing with his own conscience).

Bruneau:  "That true? You were trash? You gonna let him call you trash? You're not trash. Are you?" 

Girl: "What else could I be? You know I had no chance from the start, man, we don't all start on the same starting line for this race. Plus you know that busted drug ring of cops before you got here are the ones who sold it to us in the 6th and 9th wards." ...
Bruneau:  "More excuses to live off welfare, life's too hard" ... 

Girl (paraphrasing): "Yep - like the excuses you all make for NOT helping us, assuming we're all guilty,  and arresting us, beating us, shooting us, and sending us all to already overcrowded prisons over bullshit?  And for the NOLA cops not taking responsibility for that cocaine/crack ring you busted that sold it to us, before you got here?"

The he "sees" in his mind all the people he'd beaten/arrested - often  for bogus crimes like prostitution, small personal weed possession, vagrancy, loitering -  in his back seat along with her.

When he arrives to the Superdome, his fellow officers, who had themselves gotten drunk to cope, began razzing him about having "trash" in his backseat, but he stops laughing now - because he's realized this is a human life, he's been carrying around all day - one he promised to protect and serve, regardless of their skin color or social status -  and made the enemy simply as an excuse not to help them.

Then the call comes in with an order about the girl's body, "Undo. What. You. Did," 

Essentially, it was an order for him to just throw the body out in the street, in the water, with the rest of them - which he complied with :(

However, not without a cost to his conscience - she "haunted" him for years after the event. 

He later is on a free luxury boat cruise given by a cruise line to all cops involved in Katrina, and his guilt consumes him - least of all for being on a cruise ship, while people were still sleeping in moldy, unhealthy conditions in NOLA.

So PTSD-strung out, he was now pulling a gun on anyone that walked near his cabin, completely in full-blown PTSD mode - and decides to quit the force (however, he comes back with a changed attitude and approach, from what I understand?). 

As I said, I haven't reached the end, but I think I see where this was going (and may update it if I'm wrong) - Officer Bruneau, for the first time in his life,  became "woke." :)

Gone was his racism, his lack of compassion, his rigid idea of social classes, the snap judgment - holding his gun like a baby, sleeping most nights in the Walmart parking lot, cowering, he began to see for himself first hand how we are all just one tragedy shy of becoming a crackhead mess on the corner. 

Having PTSD myself, for other reasons than just the hurricanes, I can tell you firsthand, it often feels like a curse - but perhaps it is actually a blessing in disguise, as the Native Americans view it?

And therein lies "the mystery and magic" of the book ... and perhaps my own life :)

You see, at first, you get into a necessary survival mode as a result of trauma - but  it's very, very difficult to get out, because you never feel safe - or at least it takes a long, long time to feel safe again and heal - if you're lucky enough to have the right support.  

People who haven't been through trauma like that aren't going to understand or care - you've seen a darker side of life they don't even want to think about, much less hear about.

So you feel permanently damaged because of it, that other people can't relate.  All you see is darkness for a while and nothing but how damaged you are as a result, for months, even years afterwards, never thinking there's an upside to it besides quicker reflexes, noticing danger in an environment other people can't/don't see yet, etc. 

In fact, I can honestly say, it wasn't until the last 2 weeks -  for some reason I can't explain - that I'm finally starting to see and feel the old me again - and that I started seeing the "up side" to surviving trauma. 

Some Native Americans believe that after trauma,  for women, especially through domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or death of a child - your spirit is now floating on the outside of your body, waiting to be reconnected to it again - but that it can be reconnected again, you can heal - but it's self-limiting and you need spiritual guidance and support. 

Psychologists might call this "dissociating" (the brain's way of surviving trauma) or more accurately, it's when the brain goes on autopilot into survival mode, to protect itself from further threat.  

You think and react, but you don't feel much - because you know you can't afford to - you have to survive and function, take care of things. You don't even realize how injured you really are, or if you're injured at all, at first, because you're surviving on pure adrenaline.  

You still feel love and empathy, just not to the depth you once did - because you realize how quickly things and people can get ripped away from your life in the blink of an eye and there's nothing you can do about it. 

Now - I don't believe God does these things or that there's a reason for everything, I don't believe God intervenes in free will that much.

And yet there are certain things that are so overly coincidental, that you wonder if it's God winking at you like, "I saw that, it sucks. I promised not to step in and intervene with free will, but you're not alone - I'm here if you want to vent."  lol

Thus, I think there are reasons a few things happen in our lives, but most things are random or poor choices - a combination, much like Forrest Gump so aptly puts when he says he thinks life is both a combination of choices and floating around, like a feather on the breeze of fate and faith. 

For whatever reason, I have always said I believed there was a reason I was supposed to be in Pensacola, at that time, I could feel it - but  I never knew what that reason was.  I tried to come up with my own rationalizations, but none of them ever fit. 

In fact, I gave up that theory for a few years - laughing at myself, perhaps I just needed to believe there was a reason for all that pain and trauma I went through, rather than just my poor choices and randomness.  

Then again, I didn't choose everything that happened, I'm not that powerful - sometimes, things and people chose me, or situations were as random and non-personal as bad weather.  

Like I've said before, when you're poor and vulnerable - no money and little social support besides other poor people, it leaves you wide open - it's a dinner bell to predators, who know you you're powerless. 

There's probably at least 50 criminal things that happen to poor, powerless people within 1 year that rich white men could press criminal charges and get legal over and win - and that's why these things don't happen to rich white men - but it doesn't mean they don't happen/aren't going on. 

Everything from theft and assault, to exploitative bosses and slum landlords, to check-cashing scams and supposed "legitimate" corporate-level banks and credit card companies who actually take predatory actions (especially during the recession, suddenly charging extra late fees - once I got hit three times in one month, and only a handful of them got caught).

Obama did help push through legislation against some of the banks and credit card companies and their extra fees tricks, but not all - and then Trump rolled this legislation back when he rolled back Dodd-Frank via executive order - so look out, American, it'll come around again a few years from now, worse than before, make no mistake - supposedly"legitimate" banks and creditors and mortgage companies make the most money off the fees they collect from the poor.

(That's why I refuse to bank with the big banking corporations and go with local, now - they at least have to look you in the eye in the grocery store just before or after they screw you lol ;)

And they do these things to poor, powerless people simply because they they can - taking full advantage of the fact that you are poor and powerless and have no other choice and money for a lawyer. 

We know better than to even try to seek justice - so we learn to just cut our losses, and sometimes even stay in the toxic mess of a family, workplace, or community, simply because it's our only choice and means of some semblance of survival.   

Regardless, like I said, I'm reading this book - after feeling like I can finally let go of survival mode just within the last 2 weeks and fully feel the depth of love and attachment to things and people I once felt, like it was okay, it was safe.

As I'm nearing the end, I'm reading all the tragedy and injustice and corruption - but I began to notice there were little miracles, too, little winks - local people who got in their boats and fished people out, defying government order/martial law to do it. 

Or things like Tootie Montana - the "godfather" of creating beads-and-feathers "Indian" suit contests for Mardi Gras.

In lieu of street gangs/tribes fighting each other, he proposed a beads-and-feathers contest, celebrating their Creole and Native American heritage - and it worked.  

Through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, gangs no longer fought, they worked for a full year on suits in anticipation for a word fight and "cock of the walk" display competition, come Mardi Gras  ... 

Oddly enough, Tootie had never left New Orleans, never went to college, did not attend museums, and though had traceable Choctaw and Cherokee ancestry, and claims he had never in his life seen a Mayan ceremonial costume, and that all of his suits - which were different from typical Native American costumes -  came from his own imagination (getting on his son for creating his costumes from a book instead).

And yet look how similar it is to Mayan dress ...

... a thing which anthropologists at Museums around the world took note of.

Allison "Tootie" Montana died the spring before the storm ever happened, his Catholic wife swearing God spared him the extra suffering, he had become too old and infirm and never got a driver's license, he couldn't have gotten out and likely would've drowned with the rest.

And though all the houses around his were flooded - Tootie's house, containing 52 suits for 52 years of Mardi Gras Indian contests?

Not even touched by the storm - it remained perfectly intact, as were those 52 suits :)

Like I said, though God doesn't usually intervene - he does wink sometimes, I think, to give you hope, to keep you going  - because hope is a powerful reason to keep going. 

Christ said himself that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike - and don't think you're "special" or "blessed" if you haven't felt the rain yet  - all that means is, you have felt the rain yet - oh, but you will lol.  

Because everyone goes through a time of suffering - everyone - suffering is what Buddha said he wanted to try to eradicate from the earth - but realized he couldn't (but we should try).

And despite the oldest form of Christianity, Catholicism, making saints of people who had to endure extra amounts of suffering, we still like to victim-blame and blame a person's "sin" for their suffering, both real or imagined, and also use it as an excuse not to have compassion and help other human beings who are suffering :(

So  I'm reading this book, forgetting for a half-second there's supposed to be mystery and magic in it, too, but not finding it - and then the above hits me like a ton of bricks.

The unusual survival stories, those "winks" from God, the changed lives from those left alive  -  the process of waking up out of our own insulated little world and problems more than ever before to what's really going on, because of the trauma  - you're "woke" like never before - that IS the mystery and magic. 

Not because you're special or God cares about your more than anyone else or better than anyone else, but because everyone must suffer to some extent, at some point - everyone - and this is just your time and way of suffering - and what will you do with it? 

Now, I have always had empathy; heck, I went to school to become a social worker, after someone in my youth had a tremendous affect on me by saying, "As much as you're going through, there's always somebody worse - tend to them." 

This person's words had a profound effect on me, and I made a commitment to God and Christ, right then and there, that I would commit my life to helping and serving others as a steward to God.

However, I'm not sure I realized, at the time, at what cost to my life would happen, when I did make that commitment. 

So after the hurricanes and my hurricane ex, I left Florida and returned back to family in Kentucky, with absolutely nothing but half of my clothes, two pieces of furniture my grandmother had loaned me, half-non-communicative from trauma.  I started my first blog just to have a flare to the outside world, just to speak, have a voice, try to remember I could speak, even - which ended badly. 

I remember when I arrived, I thanked God, out loud, "I have nothing else, God, but thank you for leaving me with my daughter, my dog, my cat, and my long-time job."

The next day, my dog was hit by a car and killed. 

A couple of years later, my daughter went to live with her father. 

My 17-year-old cat died that same year.

My job of 7 years began outsourcing to India two weeks after I said that prayer of gratitude. 

And yet, I know this sounds strange, and though painful like nothing else prior in my  life, even angry  - in the end, looking back - it was precisely those things actually convinced me more than ever there was a God?

Not that he did them, of course - but  the sheer improbability of these things happening, of all of my worst nightmares coming true in rapid succession - the things I had just thanked God aloud for - left the possibility of something spiritually going on was at least suspect. 

Was it a test?  Was there really negative spiritual energy out there, and if so, did it have a will and a conscience and it hears your prayers?  And if there's that on the side of evil, then there would naturally be the same on the side of light?

I don't know - but what I do know is once you make up your mind 
to change your life for the better, there is evil right alongside to tempt you away from hope and faith - can you hold out and hold on anyway? 

I got a job as a secretary for a temp service, and watched the recruiters laugh over New Orleans "refugees" as being lazy and stupid, not realizing they were checked out, you could see it in their eyes. 

And when I pointed this out, there was no compassion, "Well, it's not like it was 9/11.  They could've left.  They were too stupid and too lazy.  Mostly welfare rats, good riddens."

"Um, am I a welfare rat?  That WAS our 9/11.  Did you not realize literally thousands lost their lives, almost as many as 9/11, and how all three levels of government failed those people before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina?"

"How could they afford to get out, I could barely afford to get out from Pensacola and we weren't hit as hard and I wasn't as broke (at first."

" Even if you had a car, hotel rooms were $400 a night at the Econo Lodge and gas was $5 a gallon, water was $5 a gallon -  and nobody ever did anything about the price-gouging, though it's a state and federal crime, punishable by $100,000 a pop, which if enforced, could've more than paid for the clean up!"

"Why can't we have compassion for both 9/11 AND Katrina victims, because politics says we can't?"

"You have no idea what these people have been through and I doubt that Christ you claim to serve would've said the same. All they need is a bit of encouragement, kindness, and support - at least give them a chance?" 

A valiant effort, but yet it did not sink in. They just looked at me like I was a liberal weirdo instead of realizing this wasn't about politics - it's about what Jesus would actually do.

Then my family did what they did over my grandmother's will when she died - because they could.  I had nothing left anyway, it was easy to blame me and project their own motivations onto me - so I signed off any right to any of it to prove it, and yet it made no difference. 

My medical transcription job was repeatedly outsourced overseas - a total of 4 times, right before the recession (and 2 went belly up).

So here I was, by 2009, working 3 part-me jobs/7 days a week/80 hours a week at $7 an hour during a recession just to try to make ends meet (amongst other predatory people that approached me I won't go into detail on), only to live in a homeless shelter (still working) by December of 2010. 

People all the while saying it's your fault, if you worked harder, if you were stronger; you made your bed lie in it, you brought this on yourself.

It never once occurring to them that perhaps they hadn't always made the best choices in life, and even if they had, hurricanes are often the great equalizers - hurricanes, like cancer, are no respectors of your wealth, your education, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your politics or your social connections - as Christ said, sometimes the rain really does fall on the just and the unjust both. 

Or instead of realizing that both extreme capitalism AND extreme socialism/communism are both broken systems that no one should strive for (at least to either extreme) because despite theory, in realty, neither political system benefits anyone but the top 1% and thus cannot be beaten. 

And though you never asked them for help, the moment people pick up on your situation, they take one look at you and your situation, and say out loud -  more to themselves more than you - all the reasons why they shouldn't to help you, "Well, you must be on drugs/a thief/a whore/crazy/lazy/too picky on jobs for your life to be this way"  ...

...  though you've never done drugs in your life, had a half a glass of wine once a year at most, never stole a thing, never slept with anyone for money (or that you weren't in a long-term relationship with), and you're not crazy, just traumatized/injured ...

...  and  most importantly, you know you work twice as many hours as they do, on your feet the entire time with no breaks allowed or you'll be fire (despite labor laws, because they can and know you need a job), for one-fifth of the pay as you, on 2 hours sleep a night, despite bosses that sexually harass or assault, bully, disallows breaks, and finds ways to skim off meager paychecks off their desperate employees  - simply because they know they can and get away with it - because you're poor and desperate for work and have no money for a lawyer.  Because they know they have power and you don't. 

So you put up with it all because beggars can't be choosers - including keeping your mouth shut during other people's arrogant assumptions that you aren't working hard enough, that you brought all of it on yourself, knowing that you're living  a world they wouldn't last a day in without crumbling.

There was no kindness and no mercy - most kindnesses that came my way during that time had a string attached or an angle - and everything was my fault (as if I wasn't already wasn't blaming myself enough and trained to do so from family) ...

... EXCEPT - other poor people, especially people of color, did not do this and were the genuinely kind ones, no strings attached.

They didn't ask questions, they knew struggle, they knew survival, and they knew powerlessness - and most importantly, they knew how to survive and have faith despite craziness going on all around them. 

There are no kinder people than those who have nothing themselves, I can personally guarantee you that - including women who had been to prison, were drug addicts, were thieves, and and were crazy, living alongside me in the homeless shelter.  

They actually were very protective of me, they knew I wasn't accustomed to this world.  One girl specifically walked around town with me so I would be seen with her so people would know not to F with me if they saw her with me - simply because we "traded" what we had and when I got paid (I was working for a local restaurant), I'd treat my "sisters" in my "dorm room" to "breakfast" of local processed muffins from the convenience store :)   

In fact, she gave me a switchblade to hide in my bra, along with my money, teasing me about being a sheltered, educated little white girl getting the biggest education of her life lol.

Though I've never had an easy life - I come from an abusive family (Trauma #1), Kentucky misfits in the affluent white Cincinnati suburban community I grew up in - I have always had empathy and fought for the underdog and underprivileged, against racism, etc. 

However, I didn't realize it, but I was still fairly sheltered on how cruel the world truly was -  and how once you get that far down, how many years it takes to climb out of it. 

I used to lie in that shelter bed and said, "When I get out of here and climb out of this, I've now survived everything - so  I'm going to climb mountains and travel the globe and set up foundations for this and that."

I also made myself and God a promise - that no matter how bad it got, I would not alter who I was and stick to my integrity and character.  I would not: 

1)  Steal.

2)  Prostitute myself.

3.  Throw a coworker under the bus to get ahead myself.

And don't you know, after I made that promise to God, all three of those things were presented to me, on a platter, as temptations - temptation tests that I passed with flying colors, by the way :)

And yet, once I did climb out (I'm still climbing out, actually) - I didn't feel like climbing mountains, now.  I didn't feel like taking on the world.  

Instead, I felt like the world had kicked my ass and it terrified me, I felt like hiding in my house.  I was more fragile than I had ever felt and had zero confidence left - plus I felt all the things I couldn't afford to let myself feel while it was actually going on - grief, anger, powerlessness - I suddenly felt it all.

Then when it began to clear, I thought, "Okay, God - I passed your tests?  What more do you want from me? I'm not doing anything, I'm afraid to move.  A good, stiff wind could knock me over, now, what good am I to you or anyone? I'm too damaged. Isn't it time for reparation and recompensation now? Or am I not important enough to you?"

Silence.  Nothing.  

Not even the occasional "winks" I previously thought I received from God or passed on relatives or whatever I possibly imagined they were - I gave myself hope by making up reasons, I guess.

Then I got on FB a few years ago and a bunch of people from high school friended me and I found I just couldn't relate to them and them to me anymore.  

After everything I'd experienced since, I admittedly just didn't have patience for people whining about the most trivial, privileged things, still playing high school petty games with each other and saying horrible things and scapegoating people of color and  Democrats, all the hate and blame from my mostly Trump-supporting former classmates, I couldn't take it - plus I made the mistake of friending family, which always comes with its own share of toxic drama. 

These people weren't bad people, by any means - we just didn't relate to each other anymore - I had seen to much of a side of life they didn't know or care to know existed and preferred to blame whomever Trump told them to blame, instead of realizing the biggest smeller is the feller, when it comes to this broken, over-capitalist society, actually using communist tactics himself because they're effective. 

And then  - as I said, two weeks ago, I started to snap out of it, for no particular reason. I just suddenly started to exhale, feeling something had turned a corner and changed, I started to feel like myself again for the first time in 15 years - and yet changed, like I couldn't go backwards to even the semi-white privilege bubble I lived in or forward into the unknown; a bit like Eliza Doolittle, I guess.

Then I read this book - and it hit me like a ton of bricks. 

There was a reason - and that reason was to shed the last remaining remnants of the white privilege bubble I lived I knew - apparently, it wasn't enough for God for me to just have empathy for others, but to now have sympathy, too - I had to literally experience just a slice of that life for myself. 

Because that is the only way to become truly "woke" - is to experience some of these things first hand yourself or witness them yourself, with your own eyes. 

Now,  those of us who survive trauma and drama like that feel we are damaged - but in fact, if we are left alive, it may actually be a blessing in disguise if we allow it to be - because are now "woke" more than ever to what's really going on.  People who don't have trauma or who haven't had struggle won't understand that or you - and that's okay - they don't have to.  Make new friends and family who do.

So I finally realized the reason why I was in Pensacola, why this series of unfortunate events happened - it was a test of sorts, but more than that - it was the process of being fully "woke" to the world through personal-experience rather than second-hand stories or witnessing from afar.

I'm not ready to go climb mountains yet, still, and still half-terrified of the world and fragile - and yet I finally get the "magic" in this book and my own life. 

I'm not special, there's not a special reason for my life - there are thousands like me - we were left alive/survived for what reason we don't know and have been given a second chance to do more with our lives than we did before. 

I'm still in no financial position to do much for anybody, and perhaps not ready - but the thought of embracing trauma as the impetus for spiritual "wokeness" is a good one and helps. 

And again, I just need to state here that the hardest thing for me to accept was that sometimes bad things happen to good people randomly, there is no reason - and sometimes it is your poor choices - or there is another reason.

It's up to you/use to decide with each occurrence - but keep on noticing those winks, when you can get them - but don't look for them, lest you believe everything is a wink that isn't, just because you want to see one so badly.  If you get a real one, you'll know - there'll be no other explanation for it and they're quite rare - but they exist - they may be few and far between, but they're there. 

Wink ;)

PS - I visited New Orleans twice before Katrina, while living on Pensacola and fell in love with it.  It gets under your skin. 

And for some reason, I feel it calling me back again, for some reason I can't explain ...?

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