Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Katrina Plus Two


I’d planned to write about New Orleans today. But then I got together with a group of writer friends for a Katrina Survivors Anniversary Lunch, and as I drove home (actually, RODE home—I still haven’t replaced my car) past the usual miles and miles of empty storefronts, of boarded up houses and weed-grown empty lots, I realized, I can’t write about New Orleans today. So I’m going to write about Katrina and me.

I had an epiphany of sorts this past weekend. Spurred on by the imminent ninetieth birthday party we’ve been planning for my mother, Steve and I spent the weekend painting the upstairs hall and getting ready to lay flooring. If you’re wondering why we keep doing this work ourselves, the simple reason is that it’s impossible to hire anyone for small-scale projects here in Katrinaville. We were part of the vanguard of residents who returned just days after the storm. Faced with the choice of waiting until construction crews filtered into the city or starting to rebuild ourselves, we set to work. As a result, we were one of the first families in the neighborhood to move back into our house. Also as a result, we’re still not finished rebuilding (along with hundreds of thousands of other people).

I was pondering this irony—and the looming two-year anniversary—last Sunday as I caulked crown molding and sanded trim. That’s when it hit me. You see, there was a time when I was so caught up in Katrina and what it had done to the city and to my family that I couldn’t see beyond it. Yet at some point in the past six months, without my even realizing it, something shifted. At some point, all of my experiences in those dark, terrible days settled down to become a part of who I now am.

When I started this blog nearly a year and a half ago, I blogged more about Katrina than about writing. An old friend stumbled across one of my early posts and quoted me that saying, ‘What doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger.’ I told him I didn’t believe him. I might still be alive, yet I felt diminished, weakened. But you know what? He was right. Thanks to Katrina, bitch that she was, I am stronger today. I say that not with arrogance, but with a kind of wonder.

Don’t get me wrong. I still wish with all my heart the storm had never happened. I still mourn my city, the loved ones I lost, the way of life we all seem to have lost. But I now know that I can watch my house destroyed and build it again with my own hands. I have found a new peace and joy in yoga and meditation. And I now appreciate as never before what incredible children I have and what a wonderful man I married barely twenty months before a hurricane turned our lives upside down.

I know I am one of the lucky ones. There are many who suffered so much they will never recover from what this storm did to them. Ironically, that realization of how lucky, lucky, lucky I am is another gift from Katrina.

6 comments:

Shauna Roberts said...

Amen.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think of the luck factor too. Having family to escape to, Lana getting her job relocated temporarily, my hoopde of a car stopping it's weekly breakdowns, UT Texas giving me an office, our place surviving with only a little damage, not getting fired like so many of my friends. It has really made me aware of how lucky I am compared to so many others.

Lisa said...

It's a strange feeling to watch all of this happen from a distance. I read posts about it, follow the news, read stories, but have an awkwardness about commenting. I think it's something very akin to survivor guilt.

Steve Malley said...

Beautiful post.

In a world where loss and death and sorrow visit us all, the time we have and the love we share is terribly important. And to have that understanding ground deep into our bones is a beautiful, horrible, precious gift.

I'm going slow on Tin Roof. It's pretty wrenching...

Shauna Roberts said...

Lisa, those of us who live here and weren't wiped out also have survivor's guilt.

Chap O'Keefe said...

Your blog and your writing career are an inspiration to those who take note of the circumstances under which both have been/are being developed. I've never had to rebuild a house and complain frequently about the amount of time I have to spend on just routine home maintenance. The Katrina survivors who've picked up the pieces with such determination are people to be admired.