the news and the heartbreak
My friends Justin and Kiersta are physicians in New Orleans...I have no idea if they stayed, or left...my emails have been bounced back, and I'm not about to call, knowing the futility of that. My friends Marc and Katie and their children Hazel and Isaac....I am most certain are not in NO, but they have a home there, they live there and work there...I can't help but think of them tonight.
I've met so many good people in New Orleans. Had so many truly special experiences there. I feel such a debt of love and gratitude to that city. And I feel tonight, reading the news that the levees are breaking and the situation is growing worse...like I have a pit in my stomach. As if...like someone else pointed out elsewhere today...we are watching the World Trade Centers fall in slow motion, again, for a second time.
That young girl, in the basket, getting lifted up to the helicopter. The dad carrying his child out onto the roof top. Those are powerful images to me. I want every life to be saved...like if we could have reached those people on the top floors of the towers before they fell, if we could have found a way. And yet, I know that won't happen. Just like on 9/11...there will be people trapped, powerless to escape, and we will lose them...we are losing them now.
That seventy year old woman I danced with at Tipitinas...where is she tonight? Those kids in the pick up band off Louis Armstrong Park? The families strolling on St. Charles that spring day? That waitress from the Praline Pecan, and her smile? Where are they now?
Where are our living legends? Our musical greats? Where are the gutter punks and the antique store owners? Where's the recovering junkie I played ping pong with in that book store off Magazine street? Where are the kids from Kermit Ruffin's place with their red beans and rice? The skinny waiter from Cafe du Monde?
If you get to know New Orleans...you come to love it. Especially if you have a taste for musty, disorderly, gothic things....for oh-so-very-human cities. So much of who we are as Americans flows to us directly from New Orleans. Louis Armstrong. Jazz. Andrew Jackson. William Faulkner. Anne Rice. Memory of the slave trade. Memory of a time when America was not so Anglo, nor so puritan, nor so uptight. A direct link to the Caribbean. A direct link to Africa. And I would say...a direct link to our true selves.
It's hard not to feel, in the almost casual take of the media, that if this city wasn't the home to so much of our African-American heritage that they wouldn't be talking about looting and "folks who chose to stay against orders" tonight. That they would have a sense of shame and the magnitude of the loss.
Writing here from Oakland tonight, I can't help but feel for all of our brothers and sisters...for all those folks on the whole Gulf Coast. I hope the helicopters, boats and buses come to take the thousands left behind to safety. I feel for them, just like I imagine you do, wherever you are reading this.
We love you New Orleans. And tonight there's nothing but tears.