a sweaty hug // thoughts on new orleans

Our house is up and going these days around 6:00 AM. This is because of Avery's school starting early, and because to get the three ladies fed, dressed, and out the door, it takes about an hour. I'm not a morning person, you can ask Ken reference, but once we're in the car, I get to enjoy one of my favorite things about New Orleans- the morning.

When Ken and I were first dating, we would head to the quarter in the morning to walk around just as shops were opening, rolling up the gates that covered their store fronts, hosing down the sidewalk, preparing for the hundreds of people that will come visit that day. It was quaint, quiet, and beautiful. Even Bourbon street was charming, but of course if you walked too far towards Canal street, you'd still see pictures of naked ladies, but, whatever, the charm was still there.

My mornings now are different, but just as charming. I'm trying to find the best route to get Avery to school. Uptown provides all sorts of fun road closures so you really need to figure out the best way to get to school, and then two other options because you just never know. Today we took La Salle to MLK. The weather has been gracious, the windows were down and the city was waking up. It was 7:00 AM and a group of men were already sitting and chatting in the neutral ground. A different type of charming, grown men waking up early to sit together in the middle of the road compared to the quarter waking up for tourists, but it still gets me loving this city more than I first did nine years ago.

A lot of talk this week about the 10 year anniversary of Katrina, the day the levee system failed (because I listened to NPR too much) and I've found that people are quite opinionated about how to commemorate. You can't celebrate it because nearly 2,000 people died and countless people were displaced, and even more lives were completely altered for the worse as a result. It was a horrible tragedy. And as I saw it unfold from my house with my college roommates in California, I had no idea the depth of pain people were dealing with, and even moving my life here, I still have no idea. I'll never claim to, and I always hope I never come off like I get it. Traumatic events are etched in our minds, and this can never go away.

That being said, my Facebook has been filled with people being like "all this Katrina stuff...blah, blah, blah" and everyone's annoyed. This could be a Facebook thing, this could be a media thing, but I just think we need to chill out and focus on the good. New Orleans is good! And I think if you asked her, New Orleans, what she thought about it all, she'd probably say, "DGAF". I can't believe that's the most profound thing I could have written, but it's true. It's like a sassier version of "the city that care forgot."

There are things that separate us in New Orleans. People who lived here before Katrina, and those who moved here after. People who lived here before and returned have crazy credibility. Their experiences are insane, and their stories are intense. And I've heard so many and every time I'm in awe of their resilience, and their ability to persevere and come back.

There's this other group of people, people who found a new life because of Katrina. People who first moved to New Orleans in response to Katrina. People who had no idea what they were getting into, drove across the country with a Honda full of life possessions and started adulthood in a broken city. That's where I fall, in the middle.

I'm so quick to say when I moved here, because while I did move after Katrina, it was less that a year after. There's a pride I carry with that move. It was hard, and a bit scary but produced the best outcomes. Just like how when I tell people I taught for five years before staying home with the girls, I specifically say, PUBLIC school. Like, in 2007. I'm sure it's annoying but those dates are important because living in Gentilly in July of 2006 was like living in a ghost town. Every 5th house on the block was occupied, and the ones in between still needed to be gutted. FEMA trailers were more common that working street lights, and the smells, oh Lord, the smells. It's also important to note that I taught in August 2007. That's when we didn't have rosters, and on the first day of school, all the second graders that showed up at the school lined up at my classroom door, and one walked into my room, the next kid walked into the other room, and so on. I wish I had the ability to evaluate a kid on sight because as luck would have it, the "every other kid" roster creation made two very different classes. A crazy one (mine) and a calm one (the other one.) Teaching in 2007 meant that on the first day of school, every toilet broke because they all hadn't been flushed that frequently in 2 years, and my room was right next to the bathroom and the smells, oh Lord, the smells.

So is it a matter of credibility to commemorate/celebrate the anniversary of Katrina? Are people frustrated because the media doesn't properly articulate the pain of this day? I'm getting annoyed at everyone getting annoyed, which is just, well, annoying.

What we all have though is a story, and what we all need to do is listen to them. The most valuable thing that our relief team did when we gutted a house was listen to the homeowner. In between ripping out walls and creating a pile a debris that contained their life's possessions, we'd stop and talk with them as they saw curtains they made wrapped up in molded drywall. We'd give side hugs as homeowners just broke down when they found their son's prom picture on the ground. We'd eat fried chicken on the curb as homeowners reenacted how they escaped out of the roof of their house. We were present, we listened and as much as having a gutted house helped them move forward, having people hear their story I believe made a stronger impact.

There does come a point where it's too painful to talk about it anymore. And maybe that's where a lot of people are now who are getting frustrated. Augustine, a homeowner that we worked with a lot during our first year here, gave the most detailed account of her experiences. I rarely left a conversation with her where I didn't cry. We gutted her house, her son's house, and some of her relative's houses. We ate crawfish for the first time with her, and she hosted our team of 11 in her FEMA trailer and fed us till we couldn't move. It was crammed, it was hot, and it was delicious. Her husband died from a heart attack a few months after Katrina while living in a shelter. She talks and talks about everything that happened, but when she speaks of her husband, specifics are limited and she just says, "it was all too much for him." She came and spoke at a couple of the meetings we held for the college students that came to work during spring break of 2007, and after two times speaking in front of groups of a few hundred people, she told me, "I think I'm done. Can you find another homeowner to share their story?"

Maybe we should be done talking about Katrina. Maybe she's had her presence known for too long. Maybe we should talk about other things. Maybe we should just talk about New Orleans, and not the hurricane that almost took her away.

Last night at my softball game, where I exclusively play catcher, the umpire and I had a delightful conversation in between pitches and swatting misquotes off our legs. (It's slow pitch, y'all.) He asked where I was from and I gave him the brief story of me, and he said, "Looks like you found your life in New Orleans." Spot on, blue.

I completely love living here. Everyone who knows me knows that. I miss the beaches of California, but I fear that if I traded the Mardi Gras parades for them, I'd grow tired of the ocean. I think of the people I've met here. Obviously Ken, who came alongside and journeyed though it all with me. I think of the homeowners who taught me about resilience, about my pastors who have taught me about faith, about my neighbors that have taught me about compassion, my students who have taught me about patience, and my babies who have taught me about sacrifice. All of the greatest things have happened to me while living here.

You know how when you find a great band and you hesitate to tell people about them because they're like "your" band. And then when people discover them later you're like, "oh yeah, I've been listening to them forever, like way before they were big." That's sorta how I feel about New Orleans. Like she's the best kept secret.

This is my story. This is my New Orleans. I found a life here, and I'm forever grateful. New Orleans is like a sweaty hug; it's kinda messy, a little sticky, but feels so good.


emily rhodes said...

beautiful & sweaty <3

Emily Young said...

Well said, sister. While we miss you being close here in Cali, I am so glad you've found your spot in New Orleans!

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