In the aftermath of a natural disaster, it's common to hear that it "really puts things in perspective". I was thinking about this perspective as I drove around New Orleans the first couple of days in November.
My perspective was that, first and foremost, my run of being The Luckiest Man on Earth remains intact; our place had no damage. It looks like a little water came through the window and got on the couch. We didn't have anything perishable in the fridge, and the ice that melted a re-froze on the bottom of the freezer wasn't enough to warrant kicking it to the curb. Our gas was turned off, and when I turned it on it leaked like crazy at the meter inlet, but Entergy was there in fifteen minutes to tighten it up and check it out. The complex itself may need a bit of roofing, but nothing got down to our groundfloor place.
The perspective we gained while driving around the city was a numbing sadness. We'd look around for a while, do our small part for the recovery by eating at a local joint, then just go home and kind of shut down. It was too much. The destruction from the Hurricane/Flood one-two punch was hard to proccess. The ever present flood line in some neighborhoods marking the height of the water, the mountains of garbage including thousands of refridgerators too disgusting to clean, cars, buses and boats abondoned and destroyed laying in center divides, entire neighborhoods devoid of people like the victim of a Neutron Bombing, and some of the poorest areas of this county, ripped apart, flooded, moldy and burned. How do you even begin to try to fix that? I have some friends there, many with survival stories of their own, and I totally avoided them this trip. I felt bad, but flying home I was thinking about it, and the reason - I think - is that I don't know what to say. I don't know how to talk about it. And that's really MY problem, because I realize now that they, meaning the people of New Orleans, have moved on. Wherever we went we heard snippets of conversations, people telling each other their story. The couple in the French Quarter bookstore who are living in a trailer in front of their destroyed Lakeview home and wanted a day off in the Quarter, the two ladies telling the Target Stockboy about their flooded house, people sitting in resteraunts drinking wine recounting their evacuation stories; these stories had lost their power to hurt these people anymore, and it wasn't catharsis either. It was just "This is what happened, this is what we did, and this is what we're doing".
I, on the other hand was still deeply in "Holy Crap!!!" mode, and only looking back on it, now I see it more clearly. Soon after Katrina I wrote about how N.O. has a long colorful history of being destroyed, and this was just another chapter in a long running story, and I know thats true now, after being there. You can feel it, you can see it, and you can even hear it. Mardi Gras is February 28th, and I wouldn't miss it for the world.
Cindy took a bunch of great photos; have a look. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.