Monday, January 15, 2007

not just a holiday

(Frenchman Street, Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans, December 2005)

I salvaged two books from my house in New Orleans. An out of print YA book called Midnight Hour Encores: Bruce Brooks that I couldn't bare to let go of. I'd read it as a comfort book in college, having read it countless times in New Orleans as I grew up. The other book was Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century which I studied in one of my favorite classes in college. I would show up with my PJ's coffee mug full of coffee, stressed and tired, sitting next to my prof in a class of eight students, missing Paris, and sure of just one thing: when I graduated, the first thing I would do would be to move back home.

To New Orleans.

The was nothing I wanted more. I just wanted to be home.

Margaret Fuller kept me company and challenged me. I should have been an English major.

But really it was the context of everything that consumed me. And so being a History major still feels like the best fit.

Sitting in my new closet, miles and miles away from the place where I once wore rubber boots, a gas mask and gloves, I was reacquainted with these two old friends. A long stint in Ziploc bags in my parents's freezer had killed the mold and the smell. Water hadn't reached them, miraculously. Somehow they were high enough on the bookshelves in the living room. Why they were there was anyone's guess. Every book in my bedroom was destroyed. The bookshelves fell apart and spilled all my precious favorite books, journals, letters, photos into the messy stew of toxic water in my room.

A few things managed to float in sealed plastic boxes. A couple smelly photos that also managed to lose their smell after months upon months in a box with baking soda. I saved three. A photo from Senior year of high school, a mess of us at Mona's on Bank Street. A photo from my 18th birthday party. A photo of me and my friend Naomi in my Merion slit during sophomore year of college.

But when I opened Margaret Fuller, a photo fell out like a leaf. It was a photo from my twentieth birthday dinner. Two very old friends and myself. Smiles, beautiful faces. And at the top of the photo, prisms that hung from the light fixture in the living room.

It felt like a gift. Something given back. Something to remind me that there's always some kind of a return. I don't have much left from my post-Katrina life, save the memories. I've had to let go of so much without so much as a goodbye. And I'm one of the very lucky ones. People like Joe Lieberman think there's no reason to press an investigation of the White House's shameful lack of response to the broken levees in New Orleans. It's time for a change. Today on MLK jr day, I hope people recognize the injustice in this country and do their part to keep the conversation alive, to never adopt an apathetic position, to speak out when there's occasion to do so. To just be gentle with one another. To listen. To act. No matter how small an action, it's worth the time.

In some ways, it feels like the year really begins now with this day. It's a celebration of hope, of faith. We are capable of so much empathy and joy. Let's spend today looking outside ourselves and learning more about others. I'm thinking about my fellow Louisianians, my fellow Gulf Coast residents. I think about all of the people who live in a city where Sean Peyton offers the only shred of leadership they've seen in years. I think of my aching hometown and the tears just fill my eyes. I am trying to find a way to serve New Orleans. The cheering and screaming on Saturday night was so cathartic and imbued with meaning. We celebrated the triumph of spirit above the Road Home, FEMA, the federal government, the Army Corps of Engineers, the carpetbaggers. New Orleans will rise again. We remember, we believe, we shall overcome.


Anonymous Kate said...

This is a great entry. We all have images of NOLA's flooded streets and ruined houses burned into our minds by now, but Katrina's aftermath on an individual scale is a bit harder to register. You bring this out wonderfully. I hope you'll keep writing things like this.

I hope all is well in Brooklyn, too! It has been ages since we've talked, but it sounds as if your year is off to a good start?

Mon Jan 15, 12:45:00 PM  

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