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