Sunday, November 06, 2005


The hurricane aged us fast. It ended people's ways prematurely. Families didn't get a chance to come and go naturally. Habits, ongoing ways of being, plans set into motion, the hurricane pushed regular time aside, regular progression, and made its own time. What would Einstein call this?
I wish I could remember being light-hearted and happy, feeling attractive, being fun and flirtatious. I've gotten so old-hearted lately. I've lost my mirth. And I don't know how to retrieve it. Is innocence and joy ruined? It cannot be, especially given the fact that not only did I survive but everything I own is safe and sound and dry. I'm one of the relatively few people still intact and I think it's my job to give my intact backbone to those who lost the material things that held them up. It's selfish of me to stay in the sadness. I have to help. Wallowing in sadness is not helping anyone. It's short-sighted of me. I have to rise out of this. I have to get my power back. I have to because I'm wasting myself. I'm not meant to languish. So how do I do that? How do I pull my power together? One way is to not complain another single time about not having gas service. No more complaining. No more feeling sorry for myself. I have to give my power. However, before I do this I have to try to say what I saw on Friday when Tim and I drove around. The houses in the 9th ward. The water and wind, how the wind tore the trees out, how the water rose and floated boats and cars and anything else that could temporarily be lighter than the water and then moved it, dropping things, discarding things. Then the water with its black film on top stayed for weeks, soaking everything, melting the wood, melting the floors, letting the poison grow up the walls that had remained dry. At the levee break the water roiled and tore the ground up like jets had dropped bombs. It gutted the earth where it flowed.
I met a guy this morning named Wayne who lived on Canal Street and had to leave his house in a boat. He told me that after the hurricane, when he was on the street, he could hear his footsteps and he could hear himself breathing. The silent city. That's what the rest of New Orleans has become, a silent, gray, overwhelmed, dead city. I feel its anguish. It is incongruous to be light and happy in the quarter.
The front door of Douglass, which was made of glass, was broken in and I want to, if I dare, go inside. Maybe that's exactly the thing I ought to do, and go to my room and see the reality and maybe then I can accept the complete truth, which is that Douglass is dead. I need to tie this up, put an end to it, get closure, so I can get on with my life. Because that's exactly what I'm not doing, getting on with things. I'm stuck. I'm physically okay, strapping even, and it's time to roll out of my depression and get my life back. I just heard a guy behind me say, "I lost everything," and now I realize what that means, with those miles and miles and miles of houses ruined and their doors opening and closing in the breeze, people's homes opened to anything or anyone who would enter. But there's nothing to get, nothing to see, just flood-soaked, melted nothing that used to be something.
There are no schools open in New Orleans. I've been counting on there being schools in January but will there be any students? It seems less and less likely that New Orleans will return. My head is scrambled and full. I have to slow down and sink into my heart and pay attention. But it seems like I've beaten to death the point that my students are all gone, that Douglass High School is no more, that 80% of the city flooded and most of that will not come back out of the muck, that the levees are still leaking. That at the end of November my health insurance will be $5000 deductible. My feelings burst out occasionally, and I usually have tears just under the surface, but I haven't felt and understood at the same time yet. I haven't put anything together. The feelings I'm having are not spurred by realizations but from gut-level things, like empathy and compassion. I feel but I can't connect it to anything except the vague and obvious. I need poetry now perhaps. Or something. I need to connect with the reality of what is occurring in the spirit. New Orleans is where I was born. I love New Orleans. It is my home. I guess that seems foolishly obvious but it's a big deal to be able to name one's home and to feel at home there. And when I came to teach at Douglass I felt like I was really finally doing something to keep my city alive and viable. And then Katrina came and took out what I came here to help do. I absolutely must go to Douglass and see for myself. See what's real. And then I can proceed in that new light.


Blogger Ally said...

I have just read through your backlog of posts since Katrina. I am constantly touched by the depth of your writing and how your paint such vivid pictures with your words. I hope you see a way to reclaiming your power back, soon - I am sure that it is there, waiting for you to find it again. Sending you good thoughts.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

I know I'm not physically there, but I live each day with the focus that I eventually will be there - in New Orleans - teaching, because when the city colors resurface... I want to be there dancing in its rainbow.

Why do you say that New Orleans is dead? How can you say this? New Orleans will never die, it might change and evolve, but it will never die. We cannot survive where all else is dead unless we bring life back into the place.

New Orleans might lack its children right now, but have you ever thought that New Orleans isn't ready for its children yet? Is is fair for children to not have schools and gas and their playgrounds and safe places to live? Can a child live, not survive, in New Orleans as it is right now?

I still cannot get over how you repeated stated in this post how is New Orleans is dead and grey. Maybe you aren't fortunate enough to see the eyes sparkle in the children from New Orleans who have been displaced as they talk and dream about going home. Maybe you haven't seen adults who are suddenly feeling lead to stop their lives and move to New Orleans to teach, relocate, and help rebuild (I met a teacher in one of the local schools who is trying to do just this. Established, very talented, drama teacher at one of the middle schools talked with me about this eariler in the year.).

I also cannot help but think that maybe this is the chance that New Orleans has needed to "make things right" and fix some of its deepest problems. How this amazing possibility for change and evolution came about was devastating and inhumane, but the opportunities following this tragedy could be life changing for new and upcoming generations.

One more thing to think about --- How can you claim that New Orleans is dead when you talk about it with so much fire, love, and concern? Have you ever viewed yourself as a small ember that wasn't extinguished in the floods who is still around and wants to help feed life back into the city where her flame was originally sparked?

6:42 AM  
Blogger Nancy McKeand said...

I am just now reading this and some of your other recent posts, Melanie, and I felt I had to comment on this one. It was both wonderful and terrible to read your description of yourself now. WOnderful because it so perfectly describes how I feel. And terrible because it so perfectly describes how I feel. I have aged in ways I would not have imagined since the storm.

It is hard to get past it because we are still surrounded every day by the destruction, the debris, the reminders of how things used to be. Nothing works the way it "should" and it is difficult to deal with on a daily basis.

So please don't be too hard on yourself. This is going to take time. But we will recover.

Two weeks ago a bunch of us were talking and laughing at lunch. We all suddenly realized that we haven't talked and laughed like that all semester. It felt good.

5:19 PM  

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