Thursday, September 01, 2005I was supposed to go to New Orleans this weekend. It was supposed to be a fun Labor Day weekend; lots of book and record shopping. Spicy food. Jazz. Coffee and chicory. Beignets. We opted not to go a few weeks back, as the costs of graduate school and the reality of brutal New Orleans weather sunk in. We would wait. We would visit New Orleans when the heat had slightly subsided, sometime in November. The wind would be crisp off the river, and we’d sit at Café DuMonde and sip café au lait like there was no tomorrow.
Right now, in New Orleans, there is no tomorrow.
New Orleans is not my home, but I was born there. My father was born there. His parents were born there. When my paternal grandmother’s grandparents arrived in America from Sicily, they settled in the Crescent City. My roots there run deep. My immediate family has not lived in the city for over twenty years, but my father can still show me around the Quarter, the Garden District and the outskirts in Metarie, all the places he knew as a youngster, walking to the movies with his cousins and rummaging through Grandpa’s grocery store.
Where are these places now? What filth and rubbish has washed through Grandma’s house? Is it even standing? Has some looter - pathetic despite his sorrowful lot in life - ransacked that home? I pray not. I don’t often speak or hear from my family in New Orleans; they’re distant relatives and it’s hard to stay in touch. I trust that they are safe. A good friend’s brother was out of town when Katrina laid out her wrath. He knows that his apartment was not flooded, but he wonders when he can return home and what will remain when he returns.
But what of the others? The countless men and women and children wandering the streets knee deep in a vile stew of waste and water, hungry, thirsty, dehydrated. The depraved thugs looting not for survival but for pleasure. The bullies parading the city with AK-47s and sawed-off shotguns. The city can be unforgiving at times, brutally violent and overwhelming dangerous in certain areas. Bourbon Street can be filthy enough in the heat and humidity. It can reek of booze and fried food and grease and sex and every possible form of human waste. I can only imagine the awful stench when those elements float around in circles for days on end.
And yet New Orleans is full of decent, kind people. Every city has its vices, to be sure, and some more than others, but I cannot believe that there are not still men of good will who will return to rebuild the Crescent City from this ruin. Still the problems here are deep. The government of the state of Louisiana has been incompetent and corrupt for decades. The city government in New Orleans is no better. Race relations are abysmal by all accounts and while each man is culpable for his own sin, surely the leadership of the region could have done something to alleviate the suffering in the eastern wards of the city. I don’t ascribe to the naive liberal notion that the wrong thing is better than nothing, but surely in all this time something could be done to fix the mess that New Orleans has often been.
Well, we can point fingers later. We can assign blame and hope to see a change somewhere down the line. Right now we can open our wallets and fall to our knees, trusting - somehow - in the sovereignty of God. I can’t explain it, but I can trust in it, knowing that our Lord will work through this mess for His purposes. The sun will shine the clearer. Not today, not tomorrow, perhaps not even six months from now. But we shall see New Orleans again. We shall hear her music. We shall drink her dark coffee and soak in her oppressive heat. She will rise again, and we shall greet her with a happy face.