By Frank Michael McCormack
Here in Southeast Louisiana, this has been a spring to remember. From the mild “winter,” the cool spring months that stretched long into May, and the days and days (and days) of Pacific Northwest-style gloom, to the vibrant colors and new leaves on trees, the passing season (spring) has made shifting to the next (hurricane season) a little easier.
Just a couple weeks ago, people were wearing sweaters to Jazzfest! In May, the New Orleans metro area saw nighttime lows a few nights near 50. We actually stand a (small) chance of making it through all of May without hitting the 90 degree mark. In May 2012, New Orleans eclipsed 90 degrees at least five times.
I consider the “money months” in Southeast Louisiana to be from October through April. The money months make the termites of May, the heat of June through August and the stress of August and September worth it. The money months bring the end of hurricane season, the last half of the Saints season, Advent, Christmas, Carnival, king cakes, Lent, festivals, low humidity, sweater weather and Ponchatoula strawberries (just to name a few highlights). Sure, it rained and rained (and rained). January = 6.5 inches of rain. February = 7.2 inches. April = 11.6 inches. But we have the flowers to show for it too.
Here in Southeast Louisiana, it’s easy to begin to think this is the center of the universe. There are collective wounds from hurricanes, almost unparalleled culture and history, natural beauty, and a common cause (coastal restoration). All make for a gumbo pot of pride, to use of a well-worn metaphor.
And then there were the videos, photos and first person reports from Moore, Okla., May 20. All the destruction, people injured or dead, the images of schools leveled, the aerial views of the tornado’s path. With reports just streaming in, my mom called from Tuscaloosa. The Moore tornado brought back memories for her from two years when that April tornado passed less than a half mile from my parents’ house.
My boss, Gary Myers, is from near Moore and Oklahoma City. My friends, Owen, Billy and Jason, are all from Oklahoma. Just last week, another tornado went through Cleburne, Texas, where another friend’s family lives. The week prior, I met some people from Santiago, Cuba, where the recovery from Hurricane Sandy is trudging forward.
Weather has a way of exposing my self-centeredness and the inequalities we all live with.
Last night, I laid down in my bed as usual while people from a whole community just two states away couldn’t. For every night I go to sleep full, so many lay awake empty. I get takeout, while so many do without. But too often that tension only lasts as long as the current news cycle.
I’ve heard Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:11 “the poor will always be with you” quoted to argue that there’s only so much you can do to help people and, really, ultimately it’s not going to make much of a difference (Of course, this takes that statement well out of context).
That mentality says, “No matter what you do, it’s just going to happen again. You can’t stop tornadoes, hurricanes, poverty, murders, slavery or a failed education system.” This is echoed in statements like “If they don’t like it, then they should move” or “They should know better than to live there” or “Don’t use my tax dollars to fix their problems.” Forget the politics of disaster recovery or efforts to minimize poverty. Where is the empathy and compassion in statements like that? Especially in the days following a disaster.
In this instance, as in so many others, I’m drawn again to Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The story begins with a “lawyer” who asks “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers, “What do you think?” And the man answers, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
But he then asks Jesus for clarification: “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then replies with a story about a man traveling from Jerusalem who is waylaid by robbers and left to die in a ditch. As they traveled on their way, both a priest and a Levite pass by, ignoring the injured man. Then as now, it is shocking that the ones purporting to be closest in devotion to God would fail to stop.
But then a Samaritan, “as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” The Samaritan went to the man, cleaned and bound his wounds, and carried the man to a place of healing, leaving funds to provide for the man’s recovery.
I’ve often wondered, if Jesus told this story to a group of religious Americans in 2013, who would the “Samaritan” be?
What stands out to me is this: The “lawyer” asks “Who is my neighbor,” but Jesus describes how to be a neighbor to others. In essence, Jesus foregoes any technical definition of neighbor based on ethnic or geographic constraints. Neighborness is based on my actions toward others, not someone’s connection (or lack thereof) to me.
Whether you donate to the American Red Cross or a disaster recovery volunteer team or travel to Oklahoma to volunteer or buy lunch for the person walking down the street that you know is hungry, make “neighbor” a verb and not a state of being today.