Friday, December 30, 2011

After Katrina and Christmas: Column for the Bay City Times

(Note: This piece is very specific to an event that is very much out of our headlines currently, but I decided to drop it into this blog because I am reminded of late of other things that are slipping from our headlines: Hurricanes in subsequent years, the BP oilspill that has left parts of the Gulf of Mexico dead, the earthquake in Haiti that still is not recovered from. I am reminded that just because things are no longer considered "newsworthy" does not mean they chould be forgotten. Forgetting is just another way of wearing ourselves until one day a disaster that does not immediately impact us personally fails to awake in us any compassion for those who are impacted. So it is good to remember. SPM)

Holidays bring different sorts of memories and associations to each individual. The day after Christmas is for many a great anti-climax that is hard to recover from, while for others it is a relief to be able to look back on another holiday rather than forward to one; depending on the holiday, I can see both points of view.

This New Year, post-Katrina as well as post-Christmas, is one that holds a great many unknowns for all who have been fortunate to survive this past year to see the new one in.

Many have spent holidays in ways and places they had not expected and the New Year is not being brought in with the typical resolutions because this year is full of uncertainties beyond many of the years preceding it.

We in Michigan are not immediately, obviously impacted by Katrina, but for many in the South there are questions more pressing than any resolution: Where will we live if there is no home to return to? How will we live? Will my family always be separated? Will I ever feel safe or at home again?

There are certain places in this world that bring images and half-memories to even those who have never physically visited them: Paris with its art and romance and rain. Istanbul, Gate to the East. Jerusalem with the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall. New York City with its Stock Exchange, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. And, ever and always for some, New Orleans with its fourteen-foot ceilings, its Latin Quarter, its Mardi Gras and – oh, most of all – its music.

They are the places that we share with each other; places we all know a little about, places that are a subtle part of our human identity. They break the ice in public and inspire dreams in private, and the world is more wonderful because they simply exist.

I have to believe that New Orleans will recover because it is such a part of the whole that it will leave a great void if it does not. Never mind Mardi Gras; parties come and go. The music, the art, the architecture and the bizarre and delicate tolerance of the Crescent City are too valuable to let pass without the greatest struggle. There are far too many things that only survive in memory and photograph, too many ‘used-to-be’s, for this not to be so.

We need New Orleans just as we need every one-horse town and steamboat stop along the sultry Gulf Coast. Wherever we may be from in this country, whatever may come, they are a part of who we are, and we cannot forget them just because they are beginning to slip from the headlines.

A disaster of this magnitude is not over because we are tired of hearing of it. Rather, it will go on, impacting further daily, like a deep flesh wound that must heal from within before it can be made truly whole again.

This healing is going to take time and it is important that we continue as we have begun and exercise patience and generosity, not because we have to, but because we were spared and are able.

Even when – having grown up in the South I cannot bear to write the word ‘if’ – New Orleans is placed upon its feet again, there is a great deal of distance between a place that has never changed and a place that has been restored, no matter how loving the restoration. The loss of life and way of life as well as the loss of property and the displacement of commerce cannot be reversed, but they can be lessened.

Some hold that there is another life in which we settle our tab from this one, and others hold that the present life is the only one we can be quite sure of. Either way, it would seem wise to use this life very carefully.

Whether one is an optimist or a pessimist, whether the glass is half full or half empty, the contents are what we have; this New Year is the one we have to work with and, though eating less and spending more time reading are admirable resolutions, let me challenge you to another this year: Purpose to pause now and again and simply remember.

Remember the simple and often taken-for-granted boons of your small children about the house and your old people around the table; neither will be there always and it is impossible to tell what this year may bring.

As you are remembering and counting blessings, don’t forget those whose children were old enough to go to war and may not be coming back as well as those whose old people may not have been fast enough to escape Hurricane Katrina. Remember and do what you can; no one could ask more.

(Originally published in the Bay City Times, December, 2005, SPM)

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