It was Sept. 6, 2005, and Ray Couture and I had just about finished the gruesome body count inside St. Rita’s Nursing Home in hard-hit Chalmette, La. We’d found the corpses of 15 elderly Americans in various states of decay.
It was a horrendous experience. The worst bodies looked like they’d been carved from butter after floating in the floodwaters for eight summer days. Some still had catheters hanging out of them. It took us an hour to perform the room-to-room search in the dark and flooded facility. The wooden doors had expanded in their jambs and we had to shoulder them open without slipping and falling into the stew of decomposing tissue, feces and swamp mud that covered the floor. Yellow streams emanated from the bodies – a characteristic I would later learn is typical of decomposing fat.
Ray and I were in the lobby, where a few beams of sunlight illuminated the brown high water mark all around the big room. An indignant voice broke the silence.
“This ain’t right,” the voice said, dripping venom. “These guys never had a fucking chance and that ain’t right.”
Ray was staring back at me in slack-jawed amazement when I suddenly realized the outraged voice was my own. The “me” I keep penned up inside. The “me” that isn’t a detached, professional observer of the human condition. The real “me” who has opinions and knows each corpse inside St. Rita’s was someone’s grandmother or grandfather.
It was also the me that knows that leadership is done by example and that elites are expected to get down in the muck with the rest of us when there’s hard work to be done. Chelsea Clinton and her fellow silver spoons haven’t done that.