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Home in New Orleans for Thanksgiving

family, New Orleans

Today is my first day in New Orleans in 16 years. I grew up here. All of those milestone events in growing up happened here. Where I learned to ride a bike, where I first spent the night away from home, where I went to school, where I had my first kiss, where other firsts occurred as well; all of these places were destroyed by Katrina last year.

My brother still lives here and my children and I came to visit for Thanksgiving holiday. I came also to heal. The news outside of here does not do it justice – it feels like a post-apocalyptic, science-fiction story. I grew up and went to school in the part of the city known as Lakeview. It was three blocks from one of the failed levees, and the data at the time shows the water was 22 feet above street level when it covered my childhood’s home. All of the plants are dead from being underwater so long, except for some of the trees – and I did see some birds.

I’m told this is the cleaned up version. This is after the boats that were still in the streets a few months ago were picked up. This is after power is restored and downed power poles are picked up, and the trees fallen into the houses have been removed.

My house was open, no front glass remains – either from the pressure of the flood water or the efforts of the looters. There was nothing left inside. As a child, I hid a time capsule with doubloons from parades and notes in a baggie inside of a wall and hoped to recover it. I got there as the light was failing but it seemed that all of those walls have been removed and only the framing remains.

The image of the day is a cross from the steeple of a catholic church and school I attended – it was visible from my front yard and the bells of its carillon could be heard to keep track of the time when playing. The cross at the top of that steeple is now broken off and hanging upside down – a marker of devastation over a ruined landscape.

And yet, I am here writing this in a home that survived in Metairie, and my brother and I have talked more today than in years gone by. Thanksgiving stories of gratitude included appreciation for all the conveniences we take for granted as my brother and his girlfriend shared stories of the day they found a grocery store that had red meat, and later when one was found that had fresh produce. I was told that pizza deliveries have even started up again- so civilization must be recovering.

I saw what I feared. Every place that was home to me is gone. And yet I am also feeling good. My city is still alive. And when the turkey and feast runs out, we can even get pizza delivered. The house I am in has green grass and flowers in the garden. Where there is life there is hope. I am thankful for my brother and his hospitality and my chance to heal on this vacation.

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