In 2018, I decided to do something different on the Katrinaversary. As Hurricane Ida arrives in the Gret Stet of Louisiana, I’m posting it again on the 16th anniversary of the storm that changed my life:
I hate to go Dickensian on your asses but the period after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood was indeed the best of times and the worst of times. My Katrina experience was nothing compared to many people but it has stayed with me in a way that few life experiences have.
Each Katrinaversary gets a bit less painful. Today almost feels like an ordinary day but I still have the survivor’s guilt I wrote about lwhen parts of New Orleans flooded on my birthday:
It’s a common malady for those of us who live in what has come to be known as “the sliver by the river.” We did not flood in 2005, so I do not like arguing with those who did. It makes me uncomfortable and uncharacteristically deferential. In the year immediately after the storm, I cringed every time I had to tell *our* Katrina story to those worse off since we were so lucky. We did have $20K worth of damage and were in exile for 7 weeks but that was nothing compared to what so many others went through. Hence my survivor’s guilt and this weekend’s survivor’s guilt flashback. I re-posted my account of Dr. A and my sneaking into the city at First Draft in 2015. Here’s the link.
As bad as that period was for all concerned, there was an esprit de corps that I miss. Everyone was in the same leaky boat so we helped one another out. Spontaneous and random acts of kindness were commonplace. I recall a day when we helped our neighbors duct tape their dead refrigerators and drag them to the curb. It was dirty, stinky work but it felt good to help.
The Spirit of ’05 endured for several years, which looking back is remarkable. It could not last forever but those were heady days. I wish we could recapture the camaraderie but crisis brings out both the best and worst in people. And when the crisis ends, everything changes. I met many people after the storm, made some enduring friendships and others that were more fleeting. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, it has made me who I am now.
The lasting impact of the storm on my life is that I started blogging. I never expected to still be at it thirteen years after the day that everything changed, but here I am. I landed at First Draft because of Scout Prime who not only wrote about her experiences helping in New Orleans after the storm, but came up with the idea for the Rising Tide conference. My friendships with Scout and Athenae are two that have endured over the years. Thanks for letting me tell jokes here, y’all.
Speaking of enduring friendships, here’s an apt tweet from my dear friend Julie:
— Julie Graybill (@JulieGraybill) August 29, 2018
In past years, the blog has stayed dark for the entire Katrinaversary thereby allowing this solemn image to dominate:
I decided it was time for a change. I also wanted to mention my empathy for the people of Puerto Rico where 2,975 American citizens died as a result of Hurricane Maria. It’s what happens when you have bad leadership: in our case it was the Bush-Cheney gang, with Maria it’s the Trump-Pence regime; both of whom lost the popular vote, then lost the thread when it came to hurricane relief. It’s what happens when you give power to people who hate government. Heckuva job, Trumpy.
The Spirit of ’05 is a touchstone for all that’s good about human nature. It’s still lurking in a city that has changed radically since the storm and its aftermath. Here’s how I put it in a post five days before the 10th Katrinaversary:
After the water receded, there was a second inundation of people flooding into the city. Some were do-gooders, some were hipsters seeking the next trend, still others were here to make a buck. Very few of them understood the essence of New Orleans and what makes the city and its inhabitants tick. Many of them, especially on social media, have come up with an orthodoxy of what it means to be a New Orleanian. That has come to be known as copping a NOLAier than thou attitude, a swell phrase that was coined by Karen Dalton Beninato. Some of the NOLAier than thou set seem to have spent way too much time watching Treme. Instead of a Cabaret, life is apparently a second line, old chum.
On the 13th anniversary, we continue to struggle with what happened that August day. There’s still a special feeling among those of who went through it together. If only we could fully recapture the Spirit of ’05.
The last word goes to Peter Gabriel with a song that’s been on my mind and in my head thirteen times over: