Although I would never say that the United States of America is the best place in the world for EVERYONE to live — imagine how many immigrants would gravitate to us then — I certainly wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. Choosing what city or town is another matter.
I’ve always been rather content to live in this country, whether experiencing 30 degrees below zero or 120 degrees above, and I’ve obviously enjoyed living in many different parts of this nation — up north, down south, back east and out west. My favorite place to live is always where I am at the present, even though I miss some places more than others when I move away. I’ve found that no matter where I have lived, people are friendly and kind and help to make me enjoy my stay — whether it’s for just a few months here, or several decades there. And while I’ve had pleasant adventures everywhere I lived and created many happy memories, it’s been hard not to notice how segments of our population here and there are dragging our society down to despicable levels of hating and harming each other.
I can’t begin to say what general behavior is the worst, but we’ve all seen such behaviors. I’m not at all referring to individual behaviors — there is no limit to how low some individual human beings can sink in their inhumanity to man — I’m referring to group-think, which leads to group action or even mob action…actions that lead to a Ferguson, a Virginia city, Charlottesville and Berkeley, to name just a very few. But I’ve also seen remarkable and noteworthy behavior. Think New York City, 9-11.
During all the coverage of Harvey, it is hard to not see the sense of genuine fellowship and goodwill between all individuals, families and groups that have been stranded, losing everything they owned — from their homes to their businesses, to their clothes, their household goods and all their treasures, to say nothing of being close to losing their own lives — and yet not one person asked another what political party they belonged to, or what their religious beliefs were, or refused help from a person of a different color. Physical disasters, strange as it may sound to say, can have that good side. We need to learn to care about others, to help each other, to see others as our own self. The old adage about walking in another’s shoes (sharing a tragedy or a devastation) really helps the human race grow in the way that makes us feel more like a loving family instead of a family at odds, fighting and hating each other and lashing out at each other for any little thing. It could well remind one of 9-11.
Yet while the kindness of strangers, one to another, of those who shared the devastation and of those who were there to help in any way, is one thing, the feelings stirred up (brought out) by a reporter from CNN who stuck a microphone in a woman’s face to ask her the kind of questions to which the answers were so obvious (the same kind of questions that they always ask of those suffering or just having lived through some devastation) — and this woman had a couple of cold and wet children with her at the time — is quite another. That reporter may have been told to do that very thing, hoping for some emotional response to add a little something to her report of the news, which she got, but probably not the kind she was hoping for.
One wonders (I know I do) about how much real notice the residents in Harvey’s area of wrath had that would allow them to get to where they would be safe. I would imagine that most of those people really didn’t have a planned safe place to go to. While people at large are taught to be prepared for emergencies, usually that means having an up-to-date first aid kit in both the home and the car, some blankets in the trunk, some emergency funds, and even a tank filled with gas. We can all appreciate being so prepared, but what about having a place to go? Although there are shelter-type places in many cities or towns that make themselves available for such emergency situations, are all the people there well aware of them, where to find them, and how to get to them? Are there plans in place for those who do not have cars or other transportation to meet up somewhere for transportation to those shelters?
Although buildings have fire drills and hospitals have emergency crisis drills, cities perhaps should have semi-evacuation drills or at least informational briefings for the whole community on where to go and what to do in case of the likely or unlikely devastations that might ever visit their area. I’ve lived in my current city now only a year and a half, but I do not yet know where to go if I needed to leave this area for whatever reason. (Not that it seems likely such a situation would ever be, but I’m always ready with my emergency to-go pack, and all my personal and important documents. Yet what would be my plan for where to go?)
If one has plenty of notice and enough money in their emergency fund, one could make arrangements to fly to a safer part of the country. Fortunately, I have relatives up north, down south, back east and out west, so I guess I have a bit of a choice. The main hitch or two would be time to make those arrangements and the cost of implementing them. Yet often, the reason there are so many sad stories connected to this kind of devastation is not the flooding itself, although that is indeed bad enough, but that the residents did not really know or believe that it would be so bad. We often hear of deliberate “holdouts” during hurricanes because they really didn’t believe it was that bad, or they really felt they could somehow weather the storm. Evacuating their home too late can cause so much sadness or even tragedy.
Perhaps the very best way to handle this kind of emergency is to inform people that it is serious, urgent and strongly advised to move to safety. Yes, we love having free will to let us stay if we want to, but aren’t we then creating more danger for ourselves, and more work and danger for the rescuers,who may not be able to handle all those in need, to say nothing of the costs for the rescue missions which may not even be in the town’s budget? And while everything possible will be done to save all those who stayed behind, wouldn’t every single one of those who were rescued at the last minute, themselves wondering if they were even going to make it, wish they were already safe and sound and dry in a shelter with their neighbors who left when they were told to?
There will always be events that unite us, just as it seems there will always be issues that divide us. And there will always be those individuals that stand out when they are needed to help. It’s what we, as good neighbors, do.
If only we could extrapolate being a good neighbor to any place we go, any place we live, and to any person we find next to us, no matter their political or religious leanings, or the shade of their skin.
* * * * *
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.