How I Celebrate Katrina’s Four Year Anniversary

Aug 29, 2009 by

Today is such a hallowed day in New Orleans and when asked by a friend how I would celebrate the anniversary of Katrina, I thought…what cause for celebration is there?  This day isn’t just about what happened on this one day in history, but the culmination of all of our worst fears and life experiences that followed as a result. I don’t see it as a celebration of a day, but the memory of a series of experiences and emotional occurrences.

In New Orleans, it wasn’t just the hurricane, but the resulting failures of the burdened and aging levee system and the subsequent failures of leadership.  It was the emotional duress we endured internally and the apathy we experienced from externally.  It was the loss of friends and family during the floods, and the loss of those who couldn’t go on after it…be it by suicide or overdose.

I cannot even comprehend the road I took in the last four years.  I can look back and try and recall the various paths I have taken, but I cannot really see it as a complete whole.  I made many bad decisions, drove loved ones away from me, and turned down many dark roads until all I had left was my city.  In that reckless abandon and in a way you can only do in New Orleans, I found my redemption wandering her streets at night.

After destroying myself to feel the way my city looked, I finally realized the beauty that was New Orleans.  It’s not in her over-described oak trees or her detailed architecture, but in the resilience of her people.  It’s in the faith of a good time coming and the joy of a good time passed.

The architecture, the art, the food, the music…these are the expressions of a free spirited people that make our city culturally wealthy.  I embraced those expressions before, but didn’t understand that its wealth came from the people.  Despite having lived here my entire life, I didn’t get that until the storm and the many, many months that have followed.

Though we experienced troubles, evils and illnesses, we did get to see the inherent good in man.  Regular people came from all over the country and the world to care, to lend a helping hand, and share their strength when we were weak.  It has matured me and I trust it has also matured many of you.

Those of us who survived and stayed to rebuild our lives and our home, have been made stronger by it.  We have learned that life is shorter than we expect and have embraced it with a greater ferocity.  We’ll eat dessert first, have another drink with a friend and hug each other a little tighter.  On such days as this, though, we recall with great pains our individual and collective struggle.

To those we lost, our promise to you is that we will continue to be a city of pirates and swashbucklers, of lovers and dreamers, of Catholic priests and voodoo priestesses.  We might appear as the good, the bad and the ugly to many who don’t understand our ways, but we are also the balanced, the fun and the full of life!

Today, President Barack Obama eulogized the spirit of the Senator Kennedy and, in so doing, wasn’t able to schedule an appearance for Hurricane Katrina.  While I believe President Obama has a moral duty by his own words to honor our struggle as a people, I can think of no better reason not to visit our city than the passing of Senator Kennedy.  In that eulogy, I found hope in the words and related them to the strong spirit of the people of New Orleans:

“We cannot know for certain how long we have here. We cannot foresee the trials or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know God’s plan for us.

What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and love, and joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed with the chance to look back on our time here, we can know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of other human beings.”

In the end, I will celebrate as a New Orleanian should.  I will celebrate my friends who have returned and still fight the specters of the past.  I will celebrate the many new faces who have come to New Orleans not to take from it her riches, but to lend their positive spirit to the greater whole.  I will celebrate those who come to gawk at our history and drink on our streets, enjoying the freedoms we take for granted in this city.  Rex raises his glass to you all!

Ultimately, I will celebrate by offering forgiveness to those who I believe have slighted our city, who have stolen from her coffers, and have made irreverent gains from the suffering of her people.  I forgive George W. Bush for the ineptitude of his leadership and those under him for their failings.  I forgive the modern day carpet-baggers who have come to be known as disaster profiteers.  I forgive those who squandered our opportunity to build a better New Orleans and failed to right the ailments of our city, deciding instead to return to business as usual.

While I forgive them, I will not forget them nor make excuses for their actions or behaviors.  I forgive them not to ease their conscience, but to ease my own.  I forgive them not to ease their way for greater plunder, but to allow me the clarity of vision to carry out my own dreams for a better city. I forgive so that I can let go of the past and move toward a better tomorrow, hopefully leaving behind the waterlines of misery that this storm had wrought.

And, that…that is my celebration today…

NoLA Rising


  1. Brilliant. Thank you.

  2. Your experiences have made you wise as well as forgiving and thoughtful. You have my utmost respect. One of my most enduring memories is driving past a NoLA Rising sign to work everyday amidst the abandoned cars, trash and despair and it gave me hope.

  3. Ken Kenan

    Rex, you have so eloquently expressed what so many of us feel in our hearts. A big embrace to you and all my NOLA-lover friends!

  4. Thanks, Rex.
    Before & after The Flood, I, too, made a career of “destroying myself to feel the way my city looked”, as did many of us. Some survived, and some, god rest them, did not.

    It is only in forgiveness that we can be forgiven, and only in being blessed, that we can pass that blessing along.

    Today, you have given us all both of those things.
    Take them now, in to your heart, as freely as you have given them.
    A truer Son of New Orleans has never lived, my dear friend.

    Thank you for these thoughts today, & for all of it…from all of us.

  5. crista rock

    Looking back at past 4 years I know how far our city has come and how hard it was to get here.. and then I look at the true friends I’ve made because of the struggle. The true loves… the true failures.. and just the truth..

    And to tell the truth now I can’t imagine it any other way.

    Thank you my friend.. and thank god I spilled that drink on your shoes 3 years ago.

  6. @ReX @LD ’tis me distinct pleasure to know ye even a little and call ye mates…to all the others here, some I’ve met, some I hope to meet, I feel compelled to call ye mates as well – and applaud ye all for yer dedication to each other, this COMMUNITY and the city of New Orleans we all hold dear.

    Fair winds, following seas, full tankards – and good mates to share it with.
    NOLA – 1 Hurricanes – zero

    “When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light.
    Give thanks for your life and strength.
    Give thanks for your food and give thanks for the joy of living.
    And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself.”

    From “The Gospel of the Redman” Chapter 4; The Teachings of Wabasha

  7. this was a beautiful post rex. well thought out and touching.
    but hours later, as i was thinking about it, i couldn’t help but wonder if my parents hadn’t died because of Katrina would i be as forgiving as you… or would i still be resentful that they were taken away from me many, many years too soon.

  8. That was perfection, Rex. Thank you for writing it and sharing it. My thoughts are with all of you and like you said I aspire to be one of those “to lend their positive spirit to the greater whole.”
    That there is a New Orleans as recovered as it is today is down to those of you that cared so much, even as you went through the depths of darkness and uncertainty internally and externally – you still pushed on. You are all so very special to me, even if we have just traded words electronically.
    Much love and affection and big ol’ booby smashing hugs* to y’all!
    * it’s the hugs that get me… It’s so awesome to meet folks and get/give a hug. Something reassuring about the human condition where hugs are freely given. Just another facet of New Orleans that I love.

  9. Oh, termite….

    I am just learning that such loss may very well take a lifetime to forgive…all the same, loosing those chains from our hearts is part of our reason for being here at all.

    Still, it’s going to be a very long road, I think.

  10. i know you’re right david, and i am so very proud of people of our city for the efforts and unwavering devotion to the life we all love here.

    but, i can not “celebrate” and i can not forgive. my mom and dad meant the world to me, i miss them beyond words. my loss is unbearable at times.

  11. This is a beautiful post. I can see why two different people dropped by to recommend it.

  12. @termite – your folks live on in you and in all who love them…they merely sail different seas now.

  13. i know you’re right… sure would make everyone a lot happier if
    they turned that boat around and sailed Lake Pontchartrain.


  14. ra.

    absolutely beautiful. a big thanks to you and all whose labors of love keep the city rebuilding. keep moving forward, there is so much to celebrate. :)

  15. “We have learned that life is shorter than we expect and have embraced it with a greater ferocity.”

    The old song sung quite well by Kermit Ruffins goes… “Enjoy yourself / It’s later than you think!”

  16. Ashley the Fearless

    Rex, you’re a better person than I am, I guess. I’m not sure I can ever forgive those that kicked us when we were on our knees, perched on the edge of our collective demise. And I’m still working on forgiving myself, too… for things I cannot change and the consequences of believing that help would come in time. I could not have foreseen the lethal results of those decisions then due to the haze of optimism and fruitless hope that I clung to that week, but knowing that hindsight is 20/20 doesn’t bring back the dead or appease the nightmares that still haunt me.
    Fuck forgiveness. I’ll carry the burden – the scars I bear both inside and out are my mementos mori.

  17. Plagued

    i couldnt agree more

    ive seen some beautiful places
    but nothing can touch home.

    new orleans is the only place for me.

    i have seen these all over the web and cant find where ppl are making them

    and insight would be greatly appreciated :D

  18. Hey Plagued,

    The custom tiles you’re asking about were made for HumidCity by our contributor M. Styborski. I’ve seen other attempts saying various things which are usually just built in Photoshop.

    Keep NOLA warm for me, I’ll be back to visit soon.

  19. Plagued – here’s where you can buy them:
    The Lazybug Shops
    600 Royal Street, New Orleans
    and in metri —
    3305 Severn Svenue, Metairie


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