I’d like to start this as an open apology to everyone that I sent flying in the Red Cross cars after hitting one of innumerable bumps in the roads of New Orleans. Even slowing down didn’t solve the problem as the mangled roads were often in such bad conditions that moving at any speed would cause a shake. Outside of causing discomfort on our daily rides, these bumps served as reminders of the damage caused by Katrina. They serve as steady indications that the city is not recovered in spite of the renovated buildings, thriving culture, and the oldest electric streetcar in the world – that just keeps chugging along. Although everything seems fine upon first glance, all it takes is looking at the ground to realize that the foundation of this city is not recovered. Rather, it is blatantly honest with its continued struggles. All you have to do is look down.
The people of the city also readily remind you. As I installed fire alarms into people’s houses, they would share their personal experiences with the catastrophe. Some lost loved ones, some were trapped in the Superdome for days, and some described the heartbreaking reality of returning to a home destroyed. These were the people who had ostensibly recovered. Many others still haven’t recovered, much like those cracked streets. Their homes still bear damage caused by the storm, and they share their own personal struggles. The struggles aren’t always directly caused by the storm. However, over time, you get a sense for how it is all connected in this city. In many ways, the human experience of this city isn’t much different than what the system of roads physically exemplifies.
In spite of this, I have never experienced a city like New Orleans. I have struggled for a while to find the perfect adjective to describe it. I still haven’t found it, but the most apt thing I can think of is that the city is alive. There is an energy that exists within it that I already miss, and don’t think I will ever find somewhere else. Of course, it all starts with the people who live there. The culture, the abundant hospitality, and the appreciation for life the people of New Orleans have is special. I was often left at a loss for how someone could effusively thank me for simply putting a few screws into their dry wall when they have problems that dwarf those that I find overwhelming. Perhaps that is what I learned most clearly from the city – there is always something to be thankful for, even when the ground beneath you reminds you of all that is wrong. For that, I can only express gratitude because I can’t say I believe there is a better place to have taught this, and I surely can benefit by more frequently taking the time to find what is good around me rather than what is wrong. I think we all can.