"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
woe Function: noun 1 : a condition of deep suffering from misfortune, affliction, or grief 2 : ruinous trouble : CALAMITY, AFFLICTION 3 : September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the South Asian Mega Tsunami Wave, Hurricane Katrina, etc. ...
Like all of us, I have been shocked and horrified by the images of what has happened to New Orleans. More than that though, I am stunned by what the reporters can't bring themselves to tell us.
I mean, I saw the video of a man at the Superdome, dead in his wheelchair, his dead fingers still grasping the last note he left for his next of kin, holding it fast against the breeze that seemed to want to tear it from his grasp. Let me have that, old man. I'll strip your identity, there will be nothing left of your life, not even your name.
I heard the reporters speak about trying to help a man who desparately needed insulin, and by the time they were able to attention of a rescue worker, the man was dead on the sidewalk.
I heard the nurses tell the story, in tears, of evacuating an old folks home. they called for help over and over and no help came. When it was almost too late, they tried to evacuate all of the patients themselves in their personal vehicles. But that meant they were forced to leave forty behind, and all forty drowned in their beds as the water rose around them.
So we hear these stories, and yet the reporters speak of horrors too awful to repeat, too full of unspeakable anguish to be told. I, for one, am glad they are not telling them.
My first experience of New Orleans was in the year 1966. My father had won a trip to the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama because he was such a darned good insurance agent, and he took the family along. Being from South Carolina, something like the Grand Hotel was normally beyond our experience. I mean, my home town at the time had one local TV channel and three AM radio stations, a few red lights, and plans for the new I-95 Interstate that had yet to be built.
And the Grand Hotel had, well, rooms as big at the whole town, it seemed. Not to mention a nanny service, which I am sure pleased my parents to no end.
When we left, we headed for the Big Easy.
Some moments stick in your memory. One of mine is the crossing of the bridge over Lake Pontchartran. It went on for miles and miles and miles, and from parts of it you couldn't really see land at all. I thought it was neat. Mom thought it was pretty scary.
We stayed at a hotel called the Place D'Arms, right in the French Quarter, the Vieux Carre. At the time, the area was home to not only jazz musicians but to a class of people we had only heard about in our town...hippies.
On one of the streets we walked down we came upon a commune. Dad, ever the adventurous type, asked one if he would let me have my picture taken with him. He readily agreed and got a couple of his friends to join us. So now I have a picture of a couple of early hippies with lots of colors and even more inches in their bellbottoms, and in the middle is this goofy kid with horn-rimmed glasses, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
So, on my first visit to New Orleans, it embraced me and captured my soul as no other American city ever has. It's friendly people, it's history soaked in mystery, it's music. Funerals on the street. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, with waiters carrying flaming dishes from the kitchen...
When I was fifteen, I would pay quite another visit to New Orleans. I was one of the guitarists for a contemporary Christian music group called the "Reach Out Singers." We had been on the road for several days already, playing in towns I don't even remember, when we finally arrived in New Orleans. We performed in a large auditorium to what I think was a sell out crowd.
At least they told me it was. With the stage lighting, we could only see the front rows.
Afterwards, a lot of us headed to the Vieux Carre, with one of the local people as a guide. Being the youngest one there by a couple of years (and fifteen to seventeen is a big difference) I mostly remember just tagging along and trying not to be a bother. Once we got to the Quarter, we met up with another friend, one who would make a lasting impression on me, both for the city and for himself as a part of it.
This is what I remember. He had long, straight, healthy thick black hair, immaculately combed into a ponytail. He wore dark jeans, a white shirt with billowy loose sleeves, and an open black vest. And he had a great big wide brimmed hat cocked jauntily to one side.
Wow. That was cool.
This was way beyond where I grew up.
I remember that he had his arms crossed, looking down at me since he was really tall. And not only were his arms crossed, but he was leaning backwards, posed, in a studied attitude of cool confidence. When we were introduced, he didn't even uncross his arms, but simply unfolded the fingers of his hand closest to me and so we shook, and it felt sort of like being let in on a secret.
Again, New Orleans had welcomed me.
We spent the evening watching the boats and drinking wonderful coffee, the best in the world.
But now, the city that called so alluringly to my heart is wounded so deeply she may never recover. People, some of whom probably were among the crowd I played to that night, are dead or homeless. Many of the places I saw and loved are underwater.
In a post a while back I mentioned a dream/vision that a man named C. Alan Martin had years ago, describing the future presidential administrations of the United States. The Bush administration was represented by a weeping willow.
And under his presidency, we have seen both 9/11 and Katrina.
I hope there is not a third calamity in the wings.
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. --Anne Bradstreet, 'Meditations Divine and Moral,' 1655