Pauline Harte

Disaster puts petty complaints into perspective

Pauline Harte · June 3, 1997

I was going to write a column about this oppressive heat and my sky-high water bill from Newhall Water. I was also going to whine on and on about my rising electric bill, which is getting up there with my house payment. And I was going to harangue unscrupulous plant nurseries for not attaching warning labels to all of those once-pert pansies and petunias reading, "Failure to plant these ridiculously fragile flowers in perfect 80-degree weather that must remain calm and balmy for the next several months will result in a floral holocaust of biblical proportions and cause your water bill to jump higher than a Louisiana bullfrog in mating season."

You bet your bougainvillea I have a lot to complain about. But while I was writing in front of the TV, I looked up and saw grisly scenes of mass destruction caused by a Class 5 tornado that destroyed most of a town named Jarrell in Texas.

Muddied survivors were standing in broken bits of rubble that used to be homes. Eyes shining with tears, these grieving victims of a rampaging Mother Nature stood stunned and helpless in the crumbled ruins as hearses slunk past them on the way to the temporary morgue.

Their homes were gone. Some had lost friends and family members. Pets were gone. And the barren landscape was littered with the bloated bodies of dead horses and livestock. Their town had been turned inside-out and upside-down. It had been sucked up and spit out, then swept away.

Not that long ago, we watched in horror as our heartland disappeared under water. Rugged, hard-working farmers choked up and turned away from cameras while being interviewed by reporters. My heart broke as I watched a desperate farmer drop hay from a helicopter onto a tiny sand bar, holding his last remaining cows as they made a brave last stand. And then, when all that was left of his farm was the tip of a towering silo, I watched as he slowly rowed away in a tiny boat. His head bowed, and his strong back shook with sobs of despair.

And I'm complaining about a few wilted petunias? We should all be thankful that we have gardens to water and homes to cool.

As I sat watching the death of a town named Jarrell, the cameras homed in on a young woman holding her new baby, walking beside her weary husband. They were walking across a cement slab that was once a home. They had lost everything, but they smiled through their tears and thanked God for their lives and for the life of their baby. I wonder if I could be that courageous.

And then, as the cameras panned across the demolished land, I saw a familiar sight. There it was, that comforting red cross that stands out like a glowing beacon. From one end of our world to the other, the Red Cross arrives with shelter and food and clothing. These modern-day saints give hugs and hope to despairing hearts and broken spirits, and they dole out tomorrows to those who have lost today.

What would we do without the Red Cross?

Most of us wish we could help that lost soul we see glumly sifting through the rubble. We wish we could comfort that broken farmer as he rows away from the only life he has known. But we can only send our prayers, and that seems so puny in the face of such devastation.

Well, maybe we can't be there with hugs and hope and food and shelter, but the Red Cross can. And they can only be there with out help.

Go to your nearest Red Cross. Give a few dollars and, if you can, a little blood. And the next time you see the Red Cross people drive into a disaster area, know that you have a little something to do with their arrival.

Give until it feels good. Because someday, sometime, you just might need them yourself.

For information about donating to the local Red Cross, call (805) 259-1805.

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