THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
I’m a computer game nut. It started in 1991, when I got hooked by a game called SIM CITY that I’d bought for my son. I played it for hours on end. Building my cities from scratch and watching their populations increase was more fulfilling than just about anything I’d done in years.
I bring this up now, while so many of us are still reeling from Hurricane Katrina and her effects, natural, political, and human, because one of the things that has kept me so riveted to events in New Orleans is guilt. Guilt directly related to SIM CITY.
Because, you see, in addition to building a simulated city I also could destroy it. There was a menu of disasters to choose from, including fire, flood, alien invasion, and even a Godzilla-like monster.
All I had to do was point and click and WHAM! Houses, cars, streets, you-name-it were crushed, went up in smoke, or vanished in a watery inundation. And, when the disaster finally ended and I checked on my population I could watch the numbers dwindle as victims fled, or died.
In the back of my mind I felt a little sorrow. Because I knew that by causing my Sim disasters I was betraying Sim people I’d enticed to settle in my Sim City. But the cities weren’t real. The disasters weren’t real. And the people weren’t real either.
It’s been at least a decade since I even thought about this game, but think about it I did, as I watched, over the web and on TV, what Hurricane Katrina was doing to Mississippi and New Orleans.
“Just like SIM CITY,” I said to myself.
And then I saw a little shrine built around a dead body, and it hit me that what I was seeing was as far from a game as it could get. It was horribly, tragically real. My stomach knotted. My chest tightened. I felt enraged.
And I felt ashamed of myself as well.
For having played at tragedy in 1991 and for coming this close to confusing playing with reality in 2005. How could I make up for it? What could I do?
Gwen the Beautiful took the first step. She put our ranch on every list she could find about people wanting to take in Katrina refugees. Then she called around to find out what Paradise and the surrounding towns were doing, and learned that almost every one of them, whether it had a population of a few hundred or several thousand, was on top of the situation and setting up shelters.
It wasn’t all roses and good thoughts, but even the most negative person we encountered over the next few days came around. Gwen and I listened as a young man expounded his views. “Those people stuck in that mess had plenty of warning,” he said. They could’ve left with the others—“
Suddenly he stopped. Not because we said anything but because he saw the look on our faces. “Oh,” he said. “That’s right. ‘Stuck’ means ‘stuck.’ The folks who’ve been stuck in New Orleans couldn’t leave. Yeah…”
He thrust out his hand to me and said, “Thanks for pointing that out.”
But I hadn’t pointed it out.
The turnaround was his own. He gets whatever thanks the universe chooses to give, and he’s far from alone. He became part of a multitude of volunteers who arranged for food, clothing, shelter, even entertainment for the children of evacuees. He’s proud of himself, and for what it’s worth, I’m proud of him too.
In fact, also for what it’s worth, I’m proud of everyone in this area for the way they’ve come through. What could be more wonderful than so many people pulling together for the sake of others?
What could be more beautiful than so many men, women, and children working like mules to help sodden strangers whose very appearance might, just a short time ago, have scared some of them into storm cellars of their own?
What could be more like Paradise than human beings doing the right thing because they feel it in their souls? Because they’re human enough to care?
Our offer of shelter is still open, by the way. Everything works, and the décor isn’t half bad. Gwen the Beautiful has been hoping to make life more comfortable for a hurricane-evacuated family, especially with kids. Just give me a holler if that’s you.