In Diaspora



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When Katrina, in a frightfully furious and maliciously malevolent destructive act of nature gone mad descended on the Gulf Coast on August 23, 2005, she left in her wake tens of thousands of displaced refugees who sought sanctuary and shelter in Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee. One of my closest colleague’s mother, siblings and their families were adversely affected. A long-time resident of Gulfport, Mississippi, my colleague’s mother survived only because Richard, her middle son, settled her in a sturdy chair, set the chair on the dining room table, and held on to both their lives.

The gushing waters swept through the house hurling debris and furniture in its path and slinging smaller objects across the rooms. Had it not been for her son’s strong desire to save his mother’s life, his fast thinking, his physical strength, and his tenacity, Mrs. Wink would no doubt have either drowned or been crushed to death. Pulverized by nature’s fury, the house was a total loss. Richard’s leg was badly injured, and he considered it a very small price to pay for saving his mother’s life. Soon thereafter Mrs. Wink was moved to a nursing home in Arkansas where her oldest son and his wife, both of whom are university professors, reside. And for three years and until her death Johnny taught by example; he would dutifully abide by the tenets of the fifth Commandment by honoring his mother with daily extended visits that included watching and “playing the Jeopardy Game” to help her maintain her mental agility, and until the last week of her life she maintained her sharp wit. I had the privilege of getting to know her and, having lost my own mother several years prior, I started calling this grand lady Mother Wink. In journalistic parlance the tens of thousands of Katrina’s wrath were labeled as internally displaced people. Because I am all too familiar with the plight of displaced people and refugees – primarily because of my personal experiences with wars and ethnic cleansing — in late September of 2005 I told Johnny the following: “Your mother is a Palestinian refugee.” And every time I see footage of American victims who’ve lost their homes and all their earthly possessions to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, forest fires, or mudslides, I tell my wife the same thing: “These are Palestinian refugees.” In recent years, however, I’ve taken to saying “these are Iraqi refugees.” And in the last few months I’ve been saying “these are Syrian refugees.”

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