I wrote this in 2015. I still agree with it.
Okay. I promised myself I wouldn’t and yet here I am…But this time I am only talking to my neighbors in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast. Not that I don’t appreciate you, my fellow Yankees and you Canadians and Westerners with your fierce belief in a fair shake for our city. I do, but I feel like I’ve spent these years talking to you about New Orleans and Louisiana and Mississippi and sharing the secret greatness of it with you and by this point, you either get it or you don’t. You either believe we matter or you don’t and there is nothing more I can say to help you understand. But I’ve had little time for my neighbors and pals here so this is for them because so many of them are downhearted and angry about the state of their place.
Now that we have the distance of time from 2005 to raise our eyes and look about, it is very clear that we have lost a tremendous amount that is not going to return. My grandmother died in July of 2006, after returning in January to her remodeled and unfamiliar home. That home that her daughter had done her best to make right, working hard to make even better in some cases. Still, I am convinced Mary Louise looked around for a bit and just said, no thanks. Many seem to know exactly how she must have felt as friends have packed up and moved away – for good most of them – because they are bitter or they are sad, so sad or frightened by the real possibility of it happening again.
At the end of 2005, I wrote this email to friends who had not returned yet:
I know some of you have heard comments from some New Orleanians about your decision to not come back right now. Some people are acting badly about who is here now and who is not. I (and many others) understand why it is not feasible for some folks to come back right now. I think that it is very clear thinking to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and family, as well as doing what you must do to keep a job or children going.This is a frontier town right now, and not too pretty or easy. The ups and downs are dramatic and ongoing. I tell you, I would not be here either right now if my work did not depend on it. Having said that, I am glad I am here. I am glad because I can help with direct action, which is my thing, but if your thing is keeping the awareness up in other places, cool. I know each of you is doing the good work out therein the “normal” world. Thank you for that and please know all of us- whether on Esplanade Avenue or Main Street- are in this together.
Some of those who received it replied with gratitude and promises to return and some did not reply at all. Some who didn’t reply returned soon and some who promised to come back quickly never did. I was wrong a lot about who would stay away and who would return. You never can tell.
I don’t know what wind event or infrastructure collapse or political spite is coming for us next, but there is one thing that I do know: the cool and lovely fall IS coming and with it, second lines and festivals and outdoor movies and football and satsuma season and much more. And then it will be Carnival season and we will sit together on neutral grounds and laugh and sing and dance and shake our head in amazement that people work every day and shovel snow when they could be here. I’ll bike to the park and meet friends for a walk around the Big Lake or make plans to meet for drinks for “an hour” and still find we are still there 3 hours later laughing until we cry, wiping tears away with paper napkins. The server will smile and bring us more drinks and napkins, pleased with our fun. I’ll stand on a corner good-naturedly arguing politics with favored friends who I find walking their dog and when done, will go back to my car thinking how amazing they are. Stopping at a store near my house, I’ll have a looong chat with the shopkeeper and find we went to the same high school or that he is related to my next-door neighbor and neither of us will be that surprised by the many connections. Artist friends will touch me with their enthusiasm and talent, so open and loving to a world that rarely honors them. My mother will proudly show me all of the young bananas on her trees and ask me once again if I know of anyone who wants them-if not, can I just put them on the curb, cuz we both know somebody will take them.And in doing all of this, we’ll get through it again. Hopefully without any evacuation scares or more oil spilling and then we’ll have had another season to catch our breath and keep rebuilding even as we watch more of why we want to rebuild slip away or be taken from us. And really, that knowledge of loss past and present and likely in the future does connect us and make the time together sweeter. It doesn’t always make it easier but makes you feel less alone or unsure. So don’t hide away this week or next; embrace the ragged and the unfinished or shake a fist or raise a finger at the profanely new and shiny. Who cares what the world says about us or about 2005 or the city since; all that matters is what we think, what we do and how we shape it. Take in all of it with the grace and humor that we are awarded at birth or as soon as we kill that first palmetto bug (and keep right on talking) and let’s just go sit at the river and visit and remember.