Another airplane flight back to our town, another airplane flight not back home. Tonight as we were driving to our temporary house, I was reading aloud from my smart phone info on city’s populations. I did not notice our route until we pulled into the driveway. It still feels odd but I felt sheltered after a long day of travel.
During my travels today, as I made my way through various ticket lines, security lines, bathroom lines, elevator rides and waiting areas, I heard a lot of discussion about the damage that Hurricane Sandy left in her wake. I saw footage on the news last night and like probably everyone else was shocked. I could not fathom that the subways were flooded. It truly boggled my mind.
After my flight to Salt Lake City, I began to hear discussions of Hurricane Sandy with a sprinkling of discussions about our fire. I suppose when people talk of disasters one story leads to another. People in our region know about the fire but there was very little national news coverage. Our fire raged through at the same time Colorado Springs was burning and most of the air time went to that fire. I did see some news stories that talked about the fires all over the west but the overwhelming size and length of the Colorado Springs fires were truly newsworthy.
I sat quietly and listened as a few different groups of people talked about our fire. It was interesting to hear the perspectives of people I did not know and who were not directly in the fire’s path but who had an emotional investment in what I have come to call “our fire.” It carries my theme from yesterday, reminding me that things have far wider reach than we know. I did not identify myself as one of the fire families, it did not seem to matter. People had a strong enough connection with the fire already. I did not need to vivify it more for them nor did I need to become the focus of their attention.
Extreme events like Hurricane Sandy and our fire attract people’s attention and sometimes captures their hearts. Each disaster has stories about people from far away who did some small or large thing that was meaningful to the people who are suffering. One of these gifts that still charms me are the “Tide Trucks.” These trucks, staffed with volunteers, help in disasters by taking people’s clothes and washing them. Having had all of our things burned except for the few pieces of clothes we left the house with, I recognize the irony of having someone bring a truck to do my laundry which totals 5 pieces. I also know that having clean clothes when you have few and they are grubby makes a difference in how you feel.
Out of that same connectedness to extreme events arises what is called “trauma tourism.” It is not intended to be unkind or disrespectful but it can be intrusive. People want to come and see the devastation. They want to understand not just from a newspaper article but to understand firsthand. Our newspaper reported that people drove from Salt Lake and from Boise to see what happened. The stress of a steady stream of people looking at your misfortune adds to the burden of despair.
I would like to believe that all of the interest, even trauma tourism, arises from our basic respect and recognition of each other as human beings and as people who can suffer. I count on the tourism being others showing their respect to us. Our experience resonates with others and makes them want to see and touch it for themselves. It calls to mind the story of Saint Thomas who said of the resurrected Jesus, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
Perhaps it is like that. We cannot believe it unless we feel it and see it. As one who has gone to see the places of magnificent destruction, and as one who has stood in the ash trying to understand destruction, I think it is easier to understand when you view what happened to others than when you are the one it has happened to.