29 August 2007

The Hem of Her Garment

But for Katrina, where would I be today?

As Tropical Depression Twelve evolved in August 2005, I sat in Colorado Springs contemplating my "next move." I was still "living nomadic" and had begun, again, to entertain one of the central questions in the Wanderer's life: is it time to move on?

During the two or three weeks since my arrival, I hadn't been very productive. I spent a good deal of time sitting on the beautiful deck of my friend's home watching the sky, writing on my laptop and occasionally playing guitar.

I slept on an air mattress in the living room. My hosts allowed me to rearrange the furniture to create some "private space" in what was essentially one large room that served as both living room and dining room for me and the other three residents. It was comfortable but there were moments when I looked at the little nest and wondered "What am I doing here?"

When one of my temporary roommates announced she was joining a caravan traveling to Crawford TX to join Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside W's ranch, I decided to go along. Cindy's response to her soldier son's death in Iraq moved me; I could easily imagine myself responding the same way if I was in her shoes. I wanted to meet her. I wanted to spend time with her. And perhaps in closer proximity, I thought, my telepathic attempts to talk sense to George might prove more persuasive than they had been to date.

On the 24th, as our caravan set out, the tropical depression became a tropical storm and was given a name: Katrina. Just outside Dallas-Ft. Worth we were caught in a major traffic snarl. On the radio, reports about Katrina's personality and path had begun. A woman in the caravan had family on the Gulf Coast. She was listening intently. As traffic flow reached standstill, the radio reports came more frequently and began to sound serious. I remember thinking I'd never been in a traffic jam of that magnitude.

A car in the next lane burst into flames. It was a spectacular sight: tall, angry flames against the diamond-bright night lights of Dallas-Ft. Worth. I thought about Baghdad. We crept along for the better part of an hour to discover the source of the tie-up: another conflagration--this time a truck. I thought, "More fire! The road to Crawford is like the road to Hell."

By 28 August, we were making plans to return to CO. Katrina had already dealt her first deadly blows. There were final ceremonies at Camp Casey that night, lots of embraces and group singing
and tears. Driving back to our hotel that night, our vehicle caught fire. The next morning our caravan buzzed: someone would have to stay behind with the ruined vehicle, maybe someone should stay with her? The woman with the Biloxi connection was freaking out: she couldn't reach her family by phone. Maybe she should go directly to MS from TX. Maybe someone should go with her. Cindy was setting off on a cross country bus tour--maybe someone among us could go with her?

Decisions were made and I joined the smaller returning caravan. On 29 August, the day Katrina
made landfall and the levees broke, I slept late after the long drive from TX. My friends don't have a TV and I didn't turn on the radio or read a newspaper that day.

Over the next few weeks, I explored the neighboring village of Manitou Springs. A tiny village at the foot of Pikes Peak where art-making is the primary occupation, I began to think about making a space for myself there. Through overheard snatches of conversation and radio reports (my friends don't own a TV) I began to hear about Katrina. The first snows came to Colorado Springs. And Halloween.

And I grew more restless and moody. One night I walked to Manitou Springs, tears streaming, railing against my stupidity. Massive arms of snow-heavy fog draped and caressed the mountains. In Manitou Springs, I stopped in a bar to warm up. "The band'll start playing soon and they're pretty good" the bartender offered. I ordered a drink and stayed. The band was very good. And I met someone from New Orleans...



******************

Not long after this night, I heard from a friend who'd already made the journey to Louisiana. He'd made it as far south as a FEMA trailer camp in Baton Rouge. "Alex, you must go," he urged. "All the time I was down there, seeing what I saw, I kept thinking 'oh, Alex could be of service here." As soon as he spoke, I knew I would go. I knew I had to go--although I didn't know then (and still don't know for certain) why. I fought the feeling for a day or two--I was afraid of going.

Ultimately, I went. I eased into it: joined my friend in Memphis for his brother's wedding and then traveled with him to Baton Rouge. After a couple of days, it seemed that Baton Rouge might be only a way station on my journey south. On 4 November, his last day in Louisiana, we decided to drive down to New Orleans to see what we could see. We drove around for a few hours, stopping here and there to take pictures and explore the remains of a few deserted houses. (It is strange to me now that I had no hesitation entering a stranger's house and touching the ruined artifacts of their life...)

We drove back to Baton Rouge. In the hours before he left, we scrambled to find lodging for me in Baton Rouge. There was no place to be. No vacancies in any hotels in town. I called my friend in Colorado Springs. She had no contacts in Baton Rouge but was able to locate contact info for Common Ground Relief in New Orleans. I reached them by phone and they offered lodging beginning the next day. For that night, we would drive back to New Orleans and I would stay in Jefferson Parish with generous, flexible friends of my traveling companion.

And so I was delivered to New Orleans. And thus to Gulfport. And thus to this day. Katrina's anniversary. My opening question is not unique here. Everyone down here feels that Katrina changed their life. And, in a way, I guess a lot of people here are also entertaining the sojourner's question on this two-year anniversary: Is it time to move on?

4 comments:

  1. 'Is it time to move on?" Such a powerful question. For myself, as one transitioning out of a current work position, there's so much to contemplate, including the possibility of relocating South, and to New Orleans in particular. On the one hand, I hear about the murder, muggings, broken infrastruction, mental illness, lack of heath care, housing, jobs, etc., and on the other hand I hear about the music, joie de vivre, food, culture, history, friendliness and rebirth, through organizations like the St. Bernard Project (www.stbernardproject.org).

    I look forward to further blogs from you regarding your discernment on this question, given the extraordinary work you've done there over the past two years, your love for the city and your own sojourning soul.

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  2. Thank you for this beautiful post. As a small token of response, I offer this link to a Katrina entry on a UUSC blog which you might find pleasing.

    http://www.uusc.org/blog/hotwire.html

    xoxo

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  3. what the hell with "all" those vehicles bursting into flames?!?!? spontaneous vehicular combustion?! do u have any idea what caused the vehicle u were riding in to catch a-fire? can't help wondering, "under what circumstances is an automobile (that hasn't crashed into something) likely to catch on fire?" in any case, this is the first time i've seen/heard the details of ur getting to NOLA in chronological order. thank u for the post. lots to chew on. . .

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  4. to stay or not to stay
    that is now the question

    I'm been a strong advocate of staying
    If you are going to be a pain in the butt and complain and not help, then you can leave. But otherwise the city needs anyone that can stay and put up with it and help however they can.

    however, I just got back from vacation in upstate new york
    and
    I feel that I could leave ...

    how could that be???!! what happened? How can I possibly think of deserting my home, my city, my friends, my heart, my family, my past, my history, my future, my fun, my music, my WORLD??!!!

    but it's happening.
    in my head, I am preparing to leave.
    art school calls
    I had planned on aplying at the two schools here in NOLA
    but I thought I might need to throw another one in the ring just in case
    like Columbia, NY
    or Guam
    or Barcelona

    but it was just a whim
    not for REAL!!!

    and then I met a guy
    from Maine
    MAINE!!! what the f??
    you can't get much further.

    Is it fate?
    my path moving me?
    egads.

    In some ways I'm excited about the change and the journey, but mostly I feel guilty.
    How can I tell my friends who I begged to stay that I am now leaving?

    well, none of it has happened yet, so I guess I don't need to worry.

    yet.

    but it sure felt good to write that all down and get it out!

    thanks alex - for your friendship, for your blog, for your insight and for sharing your journey so openly. I hear your pain a lot ... and I wish you could be spontaneously healed. But it's your journey.

    peace, love and guilt free journey,
    leslie

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