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I Got You - Babe

by Kelly Chopus

September 5,2006

This is a week of anniversaries for me. Recovering. Remembering. A year since sickness and then, finally, health. A year since Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, the levees in lower New Orleans acquiesced to poor design and millions of gallons of surging sea, and winds tore whole coastline towns into oblivion in Mississippi. Almost five years since a September morning, in New York City and Washington DC and that small field in Pennsylvania when our collective innocence was blown apart like the plane-weapons crashing into our homeland security.

The reminiscing for me started last week while viewing Spike Lee’s HBO documentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. I don’t know why I felt compelled to watch the two night premier, or how to exactly and precisely explain my continuing morbid fascination with the state of the recovery process in Louisiana and Mississippi. It just is. My therapist friends will say that in my mind, time and space fused and joined the events. So Star Trek: The Next Generation. My very own Vulcan mind meld, without Spock. Or that I was lucky enough to be fully present in a live version of Maslow-like theory of human motivation. You remember, right? Abraham Maslow wrote that as humans meet basic needs, biological needs (like eating, sleeping, breathing) and safety needs, like shelter then love and belonging…they seek to satisfy higher needs, like status and the big one: actualization. Being needs. Growing needs. Right. Who has time to get to actualization when you are just busy grocery shopping and supervising homework? These needs occupy a set hierarchy, meaning you only get to the higher needs when you have dealt with and conquered the first needs.

But what do you do if in an instant all that is gone? How do you cope with utter and total loss, where there aren’t even any pieces to pick up? Our school board or county commission squabbles disappear by comparison. Nothing is a priority in New Orleans and Biloxi and other Gulf Coast communities until the basics are satisfied. Just like the only focus in New York City on that dark day was safety – physical, familial, and later, employment. And a properly functioning society...which loops back toward the Gulf Coast.

Recovering has been on my mind. A year ago, I recuperated in the stupor of CNN and other news channels, held captive by the images of devastation, desperation and a sickening lack of response. My recovery felt tied to theirs somehow. I don’t remember much of September or October of last year, but I remember those images.

And what of our Queen City? What is happening here to prepare, inform and protect our city and region?

Charlotte is preparing for a terrorist attack. For another natural disaster of epic proportions. For the pandemic. For the avian flu. Multi agency groups like the Contingency Planning Association of the Carolinas meet regularly, share information and develop the templates we might all be using in case of extreme emergency. It is nice to know people are caring for other people in our community. Planning for our hierarchy of needs. Planning for the worst so we can meet the challenge with our best.

I have been waiting to write this particular love letter to the people who were planning for my emergency. My natural disaster. It has incubated in my subconscious long enough. I thank and am thankful for the strangers who cared for me. The husband unwavering, the friend who asked the right questions, because I could not. Our children, just because! The friends and family who showed me how to cope, cared for my family, cleaned my house. Those who helped me move on. Everyone who helped me realize that Charlotte is as good a home town as I have ever had. All of my needs were mercifully met and I got better. My prayers seek the same for our neighbors in the Gulf Coast and in New York City and Washington DC.

This I learned: I need all of you. In turn, you need me. Reaching our fullest potential, together. The brass ring of self-actualization! Whoa. That wasn’t even painful.

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