Lessons from a Hurricane

by Dee Ann Miller

Katrina has triggered SO much for me! I bet it has for you, too. Only some of it has to do with the issues of professional sexual abuse, though almost everything about Katrina relates to those issues in some way.

You see, I was in Hurricane Camille in 1969, living in New Orleans, due to have my first baby that very week! As I watched the bumper-to-bumper traffic streaming out of that familiar city just two weeks ago, I thought that the up-to-date cars were the only difference between 2005 and 1969. That and the fact that I was watching the evacuation on TV, rather than occupying one of the cars. I understand being vulnerable in a hurricane differently than most people who watched the surreal story unfold.

The day before Camille hit, the mayor of New Orleans went on television, urging everyone to get out. The Category Five hurricane was predicted to be heading straight at New Orleans. People who had survived Betsy, a much weaker, yet deadly hurricane that hit New Orleans in 1965, were especially terrified. Little did we know that Camille would change course and that we would soon be in the midst of it, in spite of following all directions.

I know the poverty of New Orleans better than most middle-class people who have been awakened to the chronic problems of that city. Especially since Ron was pastor of a church in the most poverty-stricken area (i.e., Desire) while I worked in public health nursing in the area ranking second (i.e., Irish Channel). We know the desperation and just how hard it was for people to get out. Yet, we do not pretend to know what it was really like to be both poor and in the middle of a hurricane.

Perhaps that is why I could hardly contain myself when, two days after Katrina hit, I encountered a well-educated man, whom I thought I knew well, making ignorant statements. "What right do these people have to be down there demanding that the government hurry down and get them out of that mess? They were told to evacuate!….Besides, here they are (as if he was talking about ALL survivors) shooting people and grabbing anything they can find…..I know what it's like to be in a flood. Our entire basement was under water a few years ago. Remember that flood we had here? We picked ourselves up, called our insurance agent, took what they would give us, and didn't ask anybody else for anything! We went on with our lives…….After all, when you build a house, everyone knows that the first thing you do is get insurance. What's the matter with these people?…..No way should anybody in that area be allowed to rebuild there. It's stupid!!" Was this part of the thinking, I immediately wondered, that was making the response so slow at all levels?

Whew! My blood pressure was probably at stroke level as he fired away with this strange response to his wife telling him that I had survived Camille. Seems to me he was telling me that we had been stupid to have lived in New Orleans thirty-six years ago. He never asked, and I never told him why we were there. He wasn't interested in my story. Just as with the survivors of Katrina, this man in his upper-class home had no interest in the human element of surviving.

I was in a hurry, fortunately for me. I didn't need to get into high gear with this guy. It would be counterproductive because, long ago, I learned "it's futile to argue with an incorrect sign post."

This man, a former insurance executive, was in no mood to comprehend much of anything. He needed to hear that most people in New Orleans don't own homes, or cars, or funds to leave the City. In fact, many of the teens I knew in 1969 were as afraid to ride in a car as many people today are to ride in an airplane! I gave them their first ride in ANY vehicle to downtown New Orleans, from their homes only five miles away!! I doubt things have changed much today.

I was so mad that I couldn't think. Yet I did have the satisfaction of seeing him speechless when I said that most homeowners' insurance doesn't cover hurricanes. "Why?" he asked. "Because the damage is more than likely to be from water, rather than wind," was my answer. I could tell from his wide-open mouth that he got that one!

Shaking my head in disbelief, grateful that I had another appointment, I left him with these words: "If the survivors all had your coping skills (I should have also said 'resources'), then we could all think the way you do!"

I walked away, realizing that collusion looks strangely the same, no matter what the circumstances. It's really not about the survivors at all, and survivors waste a lot of emotional energy believing that set minds can easily be changed to understand that neither the disaster nor the collusion is the fault of survivors. It's all about the DIM thinking (Denial, Ignorance, and Minimization) of the "listener," whether the disaster is a hurricane, an accident, cancer, or professional sexual abuse.

It happens because it is much easier to blame the innocent and deny the responsibility of people in the systems of power to respond appropriately. It's a form of self-righteousness that keeps us from knowing "this could be me."

Fortunately, not everyone is as prejudiced against hurricane victims as this guy. Yet we are all prone to sometimes collude, when we do not want to face the reality of situations that seem foreign to our imagination. Knowing this doesn't make it easier for the victims of collusion. It serves to remind us, however, that no one group of victims has a monopoly on the re-victimization that collusion brings. Overcoming our own collusion with destruction is the job of every thinking person who wants to become more compassionate. It's the best anecdote I know for bitterness.

Dee Miller, RN

This article, like all at www.takecourage.org is copyrighted by the author. Other writers, by copyright law, may use up to 300 words in other published works without asking permission, provided the author is given full credit. This also applies to the acronym "DIM Thinking," a term coined by Miller. You may download and/or distribute copies of any of these articles, for educational purposes, PROVIDED the pages are distributed without alteration, including this copyright statement.

Dee Ann Miller is the author of Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (2017) How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct (1993) and The Truth about Malarkey (2000)