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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Sometimes you feel helpless

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

It's hard to describe the emotions of yesterday. Words like "fear," "shock," "sadness" seem so small. Those are feelings we have in our everyday lives, when we meet our own little bumps in the road. Those words don't serve to describe the emotion of a nation united in tragedy.

Perhaps the hardest feeling to deal with as we watch the horror from so far away is the feeling of helplessness. Helplessness not so much in the sense that no one can help us, but more frustrating — perhaps more painful — that we cannot be of help.

There's so little we can do.

We can sit, fixated by the images on television and in photos, look as long as we dare at the dust-covered faces of the rescue workers on the front line, the images of death and terror, and wish we could do something — anything.

The feelings call to mind the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor for many. In some ways, for many of us, there are also a number of connections to Hurricane 'Iniki, which touched down and changed lives on the same day, Sept. 11, in 1992.

Shock. Confusion. Grief.

Kaua'i lay in pieces and there was so much human need, so much damage, so much loss and no way to make sense of it.

In the days following the island-wide destruction nine years ago, a care package arrived at my door. It was anonymous, sent from someone far away from the broken houses and broken lives. In the box, to my disgust, a pile of what seemed like junk: a cracked flashlight, a rusty bucket, an odd stack of purple gauzy fabric with a row of velcro sewn onto one end. After a while, I figured out the mystery purple squares were those little pieces of fabric that hang off the headrests of airline seats. How was that supposed to help?

It seems different now, that box of junk. It seems what was most important wasn't what was in the box, but that someone somewhere outside of Kaua'i wanted to help. Maybe they didn't know how. Maybe they didn't have the means. Maybe the bucket and the flashlight and the purple headrest covers were all they could spare to express their deep regret for Kaua'i's suffering.

Sometimes, despite the best intentions, there's nothing to be done, no way to ease the pain. Our spirits cry out to do something, our hearts break with the realization that we just can't.

Yes, giving blood is a good way to help. The Blood Bank has been swamped with people who want to donate, and that's a wonderful expression of human caring. And in weeks to come, there will no doubt be collections and calls for donations and stuff we can gather and ship, addresses where we can send condolences.

But right now, today, there isn't much we can do but gather our families close together and pray in the best way we know how. It's not much, but in some ways, it's enough.

Reach Lee Cataluna at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluludvertiser.com