Saturday, September 03, 2005

Difficult Decisions

I have in my little blue book seven fleshed out blog posts about my ongoing trip to Washington and New York. Lots of unique events and interesting observations that are worth sharing, or at lest worth preserving. My plan was to prepare the text for the posts while I was on the plane and then post when I get home. However, I find myself with some spare moments and a computer while I wait for my hosts to wake up. But this post is not about my trip.

Last week New Orleans and the surrounding area were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, flooding much of the city, leaving tens of thousands homeless and end many, many lives. Until last night it seemed rather distant... unfortunate to be certain, but a issue beyond my control and outside of my world view. I had a few discussions with some friends on the topic of donating to the relief effort, noting that with previous disasters SO much money is focused on the affected area that other needy areas go without. As I understand it, when a donor dedicates money to a particular area, that request is binding; even if the Red Cross believed other places need the money more, their hands are tied.

Last night the issue became someone more salient for me when I learned that an undergraduate friend of mine attending Tulane Law School (in New Orleans) had evacuated and accepted as a visiting scholar at UWSL. He always wanted to attend UWSL, but I doubt this is the way he envisioned getting there. I also learned that his recently purchased condo in New Orleans had survived the flooding unharmed, leaving him with a full mortgage payment, and that his financial aid remained impounded at Tulane.

Which brings me to the difficult question. He needs a place to stay in Seattle. His sister lives there, and his family lives some distance away, but neither are very good options in his mind. He tells me he is hoping for a law student to open their home to him. I'm pretty sure he means me. But the issue is complicated, not the least of which is my roommate who doesn't even know the guy.

My friend (name, in case you hadn't noticed, isn't important and I'd rather not have it come up on a google search) and I once lived together in DC for a summer, which was an interesting experience. He was often inconsiderate of my needs as a roommate, and happily spent his money (and his parents) while I barely afforded to eat. We didn't end that summer on the best of terms, but eventually reconciled into an uneasy friendship that has waned over the years more because of distance than dislike. I didn't actually say no to his request, because he never actually asked. Instead I focused on things I knew were within my capacity for compassion: orienting him to the school, introducing him to friends, getting him into the poker games. Stupid stuff. Certainly not the stuff of heroes.

[But] how can I shut my own door and expect a stranger to offer housing to a friend of four years? Sure, he's not the greatest person to walk the Earth... but he's been there for me in the past, don't I owe him more than a pat on the shoulder and a cup of coffee? I have emailed Brett to get him thinking about the possibility, because I'll need his approval before I do anything. But it seems increasingly possible that I will have a new roommate in a few weeks time.

In the somewhat larger context, I'm wondering about my earlier thoughts on donations. It is true that the Red Cross (or whoever) has a better sense of where the money should go. But at the same time, there is something about the helplessness of natural disasters that deserves special attention. Many of the recipients of aid are in systemic situations that require a shift in regional political planning to truly resolve. Aid is nothing more than a band-aid. But with natural disasters, the people most effected are not in power and won't have a chance to expressed their dislikes to local politicians until elections roll around next year. These people need help and they need it now; the situation is beyond their control.


erin said...

What kind of "man" airs his personal relationship details on a website. If you cared for Lindsey as much as you declare why you would make your personal experiences, discussions and emotions public?

Sean Kellogg said...

If you cared for Lindsay you'd know how to actually spell her name. But, seriously, I don't have a lot of reasons to keep my life private... sort of the open book aproach, if you will. If I'm engaged in activity and behavior that I'm unwilling to share... then maybe I shouldn't be doing it.