Friday, May 23, 2008

New Orleans

This is the post that I have been writing in my head for almost a week and a half now. Last week, Jeremy and I made our first trip back to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit. Needless to say, I was slightly nervous about taking Lauren with us, but I should have known God was taking care of us! We got off I-10 outside of Gautier, and traveled Highway 90 pretty much all the way to Louisiana. I know that that entire section of the Gulf Coast was hit really hard by the storm, and driving down the Beach Highway seeing multiple foundations and stairs that led nowhere, I was struck by how much history we lost in Katrina. Gorgeous homes that dated back over 100 years are gone completely now because of this storm. I also know, because of my family in South Alabama, that hurricanes are a part of life down there – kind of like tornados in the Midwest and South, and earthquakes on the West Coast. But, like tornados and earthquakes, I don’t think there’s any way to really prepare for the devestation a hurricane or other natural disaster can do. Driving through Mississippi, I felt like I was pretty much prepared to see New Orleans too. Driving into New Orleans though, I realized I wasn’t.

When Jeremy and I started dating, New Orleans was our gateway. 3 times in 1996, I either flew into or out of the Louis Armstrong airport. Jeremy lived in Alabama, but it was always cheaper for me to fly to New Orleans. I remember being 19 and walking down Bourbon street for the first time in awe of the debauchery in broad daylight :) But, there was always a small sense in that year, that while New Orleans wasn't home, it was the city that took me to Jeremy. And when you're young and in love, and apart from each other for long periods of time, that means a lot.

After we got married in 1997, our trips to New Orleans became a little less frequent. We still went, but it was cut back to maybe once a year, but we always got to stay longer than a day at that point. We’ve had several short stays and one week-long vacation with friends in that city. And each time we go, I realize how much more I want to see.

From the first time I walked down the Riverwalk, to the first time I ate beignets at Cafe Du Monde, to exploring the French Quarter and French Market, I fell in love with certain aspects of the city. I love the attitude of the people there, the deep south roots the city has, the gorgeous architecture of some of the places in the French Quarter, and especially some of the houses in the Garden District. I love standing outside Preservation Hall at night and listening to some of the best jazz I've ever heard in my life. Music permeates that city like no other city in America..and it's not like Beale Street in Memphis where the majority of the music is blues. It's not uncommon for jazz, zydeco, cajun, gospel, blues, and a few other types of music to all blend together. I fell in love with zydeco music at the Rock and Bowl many years ago, and I had a blast this trip seeing Lauren dancing along with some jazz, some zydeco, and even some gospel! I think one of the reasons that New Orleans resonates with me so much is because of my love for music, and there is no other city in the world that does music like New Orleans.

We were in Alabama 2 weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit, and talked about going to New Orleans for a couple of days while we were down there. How I have wished we had!

Driving into New Orleans last week, crossing the I-10 bridge and knowing that some of the sections of the bridge had been washed out in the storm was slightly nerve-wracking for me ~ especially when I could visualize exactly what the pictures of that bridge looked like in the days following Katrina. Once we got into the outskirts of the city, certain things struck me ~ like seeing a Wal-Mart Jeremy and I had gone to years before boarded up and abandoned, or looking into neighborhoods that looked like they should have been full of children riding bikes up and down streets or people outside enjoying the day and talking to each other. Instead, there might have been 1 or 2 houses that were lived in, and most of the other houses in the neighborhood had not been touched in 3 years. Windows were broken, houses were gutted, and one of the things I remember the most were the massive dumpsters parked on each street with tons of carpet and sheet rock and other building materials. I couldn’t believe that almost 3 years later, there were certain parts of the city that looked almost untouched.

In late August and early September of 2005, I watched in horror as the most terrible natural disaster I have ever seen unfolded on national television. I watched, captivated, as a city that I loved, rapidly descended into complete and utter chaos, while it looked like no one was going to do anything. A mandatory evacuation was issued, but in a city that relies on public transportation with thousands of people that didn't even own vehicles, no arrangements were made to help those people get out of the city. And while there's enough blame to cover all of the levels of government, I do think that in the aftermath, you see the effects of poor planning on every level. No one, from the city government on up to the national government had any idea what to do, or where to even start.

Lauren was about 10 weeks old or so when Katrina hit, and I remember being so impacted by the stories of mothers and their children up on the I-10 overpass that I had driven over so many times, with no water or shade in the blazing heat and humidity of New Orleans in early September. I watched with tears, as a man described on television how his wife and two daughters were swept away right out of his arms, and I finally got to a point where I had to turn the television off because it was consuming me. I was depressed a lot, and I couldn’t go to sleep at night for long periods of time because of all of the images I was seeing on TV.

I ended up doing some volunteer work with the families that were evacuated to our town, and I don't say any of this to say that what I went through was even a small small fraction of what those poor families went through, but I came out of Katrina with a deeper understanding of something I have struggled with at various walks in my faith. I struggled for a long time after that with questions like how could God let something like that happen? And a few months after the fact, and it's something I realize even more after we've been there now, I think there are things that God allows to happen if for no other reason than to us to be His hands and feet. People ask where God is in situations like that, and I have to say that He’s in the face of every single person that helped clean up or offer assistance. He’s in the hands and feet of the volunteers who went down there to work with complete strangers to let them know that they were not alone, and they were not going to have to go through the aftermath by themselves. I know that prayers are answered, but I don’t understand at times why God doesn’t step in and prevent suffering – from natural disasters or situations like the earthquake in China or the typhoon in Burma, or the thousands of hungry children around the world that pray for food every night. But I do know that God expects me to do something about it. Could God stop it if He so chose? Absolutely, but maybe there are times that He chooses to let things happen so that His people can show others a visible reminder of a God that loves each of us more than we can imagine. Whether it’s actually going to do mission work in another country or state, or raising Lauren to have the desire to do that, or sending a check every month to sponsor a child in a third-world country, or just donating food or clothes to a local shelter, I think God calls us to make a difference on a daily basis ~ not just when disasters strike. Although, I think sometimes we have to have those disasters as reminders to not get too complacent in our daily walks. I also think that each time some kind of crisis hits, it creates (or should be creating) a little bit more of a longing to go Home, and it shows us just how much we are aliens here.

New Orleans is rebuilding, and I have to say it was so very hard for me last week to not ask every single person we interacted with what their Katrina story was – because I knew that everyone that lived down there was affected by the storm. Not everyone lost all they had, but everyone lost something – whether it was their homes, their possessions, or just a feeling of security or even innocence, everyone lost something. As we left the city last Friday, I was amazed at the number of tents set up under the I-10 overpass by the Superdome. In a space of maybe 1/10th of a mile, there were probably 50 tents that people were living in. I remember some tents from earlier visits, but I had never seen that many there before. There is still so much more that needs to be done. I do know that my prayers for that region have been renewed – especially after seeing how far they have to go. And I cannot wait to go back again to see how far they’ve come.

I know this post has been mostly just a bunch of rambling, but I have needed an outlet to get part of the emotions I felt last week out, so if you’re still reading thanks! And if you really are still reading, say a little prayer tonight of thankfulness that you have a bed to sleep in and food to eat and clothes to wear, and say a little prayer for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as they are still struggling to rebuild almost 3 years later.

4 comments:

doctorj2u said...

Leanne,
Thank you for this post and thank you for caring. I am a New Orleanian and my mother lives on the Ms Gulf Coast. You are,to me, what America should be (and sadly is no longer). You have a good heart.

Traci said...

Leanne,

I found your blog. I love looking at pictures of your sweet girl.

Traci

Phillips Family said...

My in-laws were just in New Orleans as well and said they couldn't believe the destruction that is still present in the ninth ward.

I, too, sat in horror with my own newborn watching other mothers having to flee with their babies. I cannot believe that the fact that people died...babies died...in the super dome during those days after Katrina and yet it was simply cleaned up and is still in use.

Erika said...

Hello Leanne! I found you linked to Amy's blog!
Your post brought tears to my eyes. We have something in common--I too have a deep connection with New Orleans. Steven and I actually honeymooned there. As you said, every time we have gone, I couldn't wait to return to see something else. We love Decatur Street. We have yet to make the trip down there since Katrina. I had no idea it was still that bad. I know my dad helped down there for months, but I don't think he's been there in a while.
Through my tears, I smiled a lot reading this. You described the city with a warmth you can only understand as one that loves the city!!