2 · Sep · 2006

My Postcard Confession

Yesterday I watched the full four acts of that documentary about Hurricane Katrina. For the first time, I finally felt what so many other Americans do: anger, frustration, and disillusionment with our government. It made me think that if I were going to send in a secret to Post Secret, it would be


(artwork by Faction18)

You may remember that in the 7th grade, I wanted to be President of the country. And all my life I have stood by the belief that one person can make a huge difference in the world, that the government is basically good and that truth will prevail. But lately, I feel swindled and defeated. Believe it or not, I can find excuses for the war. If you've ever worked for an extraordinarily large corporation, you know how important things can get lost in the shuffle. That was most of my excuse for Bush after the first 6 months into the war.

Then I gave him some slack because he's a Christian and sometimes Christians believe it's their job to "save" everyone. He's not an evil person, I told myself, He thinks he's helping. It's not been as hard as you think it would be to stand by Bush. I can also blame his staff and the press and the ignorance of the general population regarding matters of peacekeeping.

But yesterday I really thought about New Orleans. I couldn't deny the lack of help that was given to those people. I watched newsreel after newsreel of Bush saying help was on the way. But help did not come. He was the President of the United States and he did not do his job. When the President of your country does not do his job, you are really screwed.

I'm a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of girl. I'm not big on handouts and I sure as hell am not big on helping people who don't help themselves. But there were plenty of people trapped in New Orleans who couldn't walk, could not speak, and did not have access to the resources to get themselves out. Grandfathers, grandmothers, disabled, babies, children, new mothers, weak minded. They simply could not help themselves. Yet they lay in the hot sun or wadded in the bacteria ridden waters. They waited in the disgusting pit of the superdome with no working bathrooms, no diapers, and no medicine.

It reminded me of what Ceauşescu did to the gypsy orphans. He left them to die, providing only a veil of care and resources.

We cannot really imagine what it was like in New Orleans during the immediate days after the levees broke or what it's still like now. We cannot combine the sights, the smells, the heat, or the physical and emotional pain that engulfed such a large number of people so that we might come close to understanding why those communities have come to hate and distrust our government. The film lies. It reveals only a fragment of this crime of humanity.

It's hard for me to accept that in 2000 my friend Dave Hoerman and I eagerly awaited the win of George W. Bush. We had chosen to support Bush as a result of Dave's makeshift scorecard that consisted of major issues of the time and every available candidates opinion. We took the quiz and saw that the results lined us up closer to Bush than the others. I even went so far as to sport a campaign bumper sticker and worked the polls election day.

Still, I believe that the full responsibility for New Orleans or the wars cannot fall to him alone. If there is one thing I learned from those corporations, it is that the chain of command is LONG. But what is supposed to make America different is the direction of that chain. Who is pulling George W's strings? I've heard so many Bush haters say what a pawn he is, that he is dumber than dumb, incapable of speaking intelligently, let alone making decisions. So we blame Cheney? Or the oil companies? Or single minded politicians? Or the old Louisiana rich who wanted to rebuild New Orleans without the poor black community? We have a saying, "The buck stops here.” As I continue down the line of blame, I reach none other than myself.

"We the people..." It is not enough anymore to be a taxpayer. It is not enough just to vote. It's not enough to wait it out until the current regime is gone. If I blame anyone for the embarrassment that is George W. Bush, it's people like you and me who complain yet do nothing to create change. Back in 2000 I did a fraction of my part and last year Mike and I sent supplies and a cash donation to New Orleans. But since then I have been sitting back, watching the stories unfold; a shocked expression on my face and a tight fist around my wallet. I haven't been to an anti-war rally. I haven't written a letter to the President or a soldier. I haven't had the balls to speak politics among my friends or family. I haven't begun to research who I should vote for in 2008. This is our country. Shouldn't you and I be leading it? Isn't it about time one of us ran for local office? Shouldn't we get together and plan ways to enforce our ideas?
Stand yourself up next to the present leaders--- Are you really so unqualified next to this bunch?

I am weary of hearing myself and my friends say that someday we will get more involved. It sounds the same to me now as if I were looking as those helpless people in New Orleans at the height of their despair and saying, Someday I will help you. Or I'm sure help is on the way.

Posted by Penny Rene at 10:22 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

16 · Oct · 2002

Job and Me

Several years ago I found myself sitting on the side of the Rhine in Schauffhausen Switzerland. I had landed there as a stop-over point on my way to Romania. It was my first day out of the US, after having spent every dime I had to get there. My friends had gone further up the river and were planning to float down to embankment where I waited. While they were gone, I decided to begin a letter to my parents, describing my journey thus far. I lay on a blanket taking in the beauty of the place and became so overwhelmed with guilt that I began to cry.

I did not deserve to be in such a place – this I was sure. As I wrote, I thanked God for such a gift and marveled at the magnitude of that blessing.

About two months later I lay ill in my bed in Bucharest barely able to move, wondering if that was the night I would die. I was dehydrated, depressed and hungry and lonelier than I’d ever been. This, I decided, was a more suitable environment for such a materialistic person like me. I vowed that if I lived through my Romania adventure, I’d give my life over to serving others. I’d care less about fashion and more about compassion. I’d find a way to be a full time listener and problem solver for those who were the unlovely and suffering.

Last fall, I found myself at the Doubletree Hotel in Times Square, NYC. I had just come back from an incredible night on the town consisting of dinner, a musical, drinks and a cigar at the famous JR’s Cigar Bar in Manhattan. My hotel room was beautiful and when I opened my bedroom curtain, the lights of the city shone in like summer sun. I lay on my bed fully clothed and let tears roll down the sides of my cheeks. None of my fortune was my doing and I knew it. I wondered if my sister, mom or brother would ever be so lucky. I wished my friend Larry was there. I wondered how any of that would ever get me closer to a life of service to God.

Today a woman I worked with suggested I apply for food stamps, seriously explaining that I would probably qualify. I had just returned to work after finding out my car has a severe oil gush and is not safe to drive until I can gather the money for its repair. Never in my life have I been so stunned and the stark turns that can lead a person from one moment of bliss to the next moment of despair. The reason I am in such a financial predicament in the first place is that I could not accept another day of feeling forced into a life which I viewed as wasteful and superficial. The day I decided to leave my old life behind I knew what hard times might lay ahead, but it never occurred to me that the worst part would be dealing with my pride when well meaning friends offer me their financial help. At the same moment that I am amazed by their selflessness, I am overcome with feelings of inadequacy and anger. I do not want a handout! I am thinking. I want to work and be paid enough to live without this embarrassment. I want a moment of relief!

One of those days in Romania, I don’t remember exactly when, I stood in my room and listed to God all the things I would be willing to give up if He would take me in His hands and mold me into a woman who, not only did some good but the kind of woman would shake nations and change the world. On that list was every person I’d ever loved, (I named them one by one) every thing I’d ever owned (including my car, my clothes and my countless pages of writing) and all the daydreams I’d ever had about other things I could do(writer, minister, politician, artist manager). I’ve repeated this prayer more than a few times since then, always half hoping, half afraid that God would take me up on my offer. It would seem that maybe now He has.

I am less upset about losing my security than I thought I’d be. What makes me speechless on days like today is the idea that God is doing exactly what I began pleading with Him about six years ago and it has taken Him this long to believe I meant it. Not to mention the fact that He is probably just beginning and I have a lot more to lose than I thought I did. Still, in a surreal sort of way I feel optimistic that I may now actually get to see God in action. Who else can get me through this terrifying ride into the unknown where I’m without even my pride to protect me?

Posted by Penny Rene at 10:19 AM

24 · Sep · 2001

After Gabrielle

Sitting there, I sensed that I was as much a wonder to him as he was to me. Why has she come all this way to us? What part of this deprived life draws her?

If he had asked, I would not have a suitable answer.

Lying on my tongue was the insanity of it all. I wanted to come home. But I grew up in Oklahoma where everyone who works receives payment in full.

His eyes exposed him. Anger, sadness, and determination with a glance of hope now and then. Barely there cynicism, but miraculously, he still believed in God.

I concentrated on my appearance of unbiased resolve.

This had always been, since the sun had first arrived over the mountains. And nothing, not even the marching of American soldiers, would uncover the lost words between us.

Let not the past cover the present.
Let not the present cover the future.

I wanted to lean over the table and breathe life into him. I wanted to give him answers.

The waiter brought another Dutch beer; his cell phone rang and he silenced it with a shrug. He smiled. In our silence, so much was fragile, too fragile to interrupt.

Nations are resurrected by men like him, I thought.

The smoke from his cigarette stung my eyes. At the next table, four men, obviously regulars were putting down shots. Their voices were the deep, unsettling sounds of a bow being drawn across the strings of an upright bass. Our candle flickered.

This is how my eight to five career lost its’ small appeal. This is why I watch CNN with the sound turned down.

When the ashtray is full and my body feels not quite my own, he reaches across the table and covers my hand. An urgency reflects in his pupils, making me slightly afraid.

“You are one of my favorite people.” He says.

“Yes. And you are mine.”

I collect my regrets and bring them here as a sacrifice to suffocate in the smoke. I lay them down with the threat of a stolen passport. His eyes softly fill the space where doctors and dates cannot go.

The street is mostly quiet now, save the nervous barking of stray dogs and the rumbling of lonely taxis. We walk without speaking. I am small with his hand around mine.

When I board the plane tomorrow, I will be an adult again with an electronic schedule and programmed with feelings.

This is why my luggage is sturdy. And this is why I will return.

God lives also in the corner of Europe. And there, He is not silent.

Posted by Penny Rene at 09:23 AM