Armchair Peregrinations

Dec. 19, 2005

(Note: This entry, written on Aug. 30, is one of a series on my responses to Hurricane Katrina and its devastating impact on New Orleans, where I grew up.)

I haven't been back to the city where I grew up for more than ten years, but I don't know if I will ever see it again now. The pain would be too great.

A terrible, once-in-a-lifetime hurricane has all but destroyed New Orleans. I have been watching CNN, mesmerized by the unbelievable, appalling and tragic sights seen in the film clips. It's as the mayor said, you think it must be a nightmare from which you will awaken, but it's all too real.

The human drama of the suffering there is unbearable to think about. I sit here in a kind of dazed state, constanting thinking about the city, remembering what it was like, my favorite places to walk, bike ride, eat out, or just take in the ambience of that once beautiful and fascinating city. I can almost see the old, electric streetcars rumbling down St. Charles Avenue. I see the grand old live oak trees that blanketed the city and that symbolize it for me. How many of them are left? It's almost unrecognizable now, from what I am seeing on TV.

I lived there for 23 years, through college. Then I left and only came back once or twice for brief periods. It has not been my home since 1973, but it's where all my memories of childhood and youth reside, where I went to junior and senior high. Where I mowed lawns, and made forts and played basketball and football with the neighborhood kids.. I find myself thinking about my favorite sandwich shops, the bookstore on Maple Street I so loved to visit, the pastry shops, all the delicious food, and the unique people of that city. I remember my first apartment in the Gentilly area. The Lakefront. The University of New Orleans. The Garden District and Uptown. The ferry boats that crossed the Mississippi River. It's all there in my mind. The memories keep coming.

Now, much of New Orleans is under water. People are suffering and in increasing danger in the stifling Superdome and high rise hotels. There is looting and near panic. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who did not or could not leave the city in advance of the storm still need to be rescued, and time is running out. It's a tragedy of immense proportions that is unfolding minute by minute and hour by hour. How can it be happening? It's surreal. I feel so strange.

Will the once vibrant city be able to be resurrected from the destruction? How long will it take?

Images of those desperate people on rooftops waiting to be rescued from the flood waters will be seared in my consciousness forever. It is unimaginable. Words fail me.

Financially, help the organizations which are mobilizing to assist the victims of the hurricane. Pray for the city and it's people. Be thankful for simple things such as electric appliances, air conditioning, and all the modern conveniences we take for granted.

Most of all, though, I am thankfful for friends and loved ones, and life itself. Basic things. This tragedy puts other worries and concerns in perspective. This is life and death right now for those people who are attempting to survive.

What is happening to this country, to our planet, and to our sense of security and well being? All I want to do is escape to some refuge, or to the ocean to hear the surf and wind and be lost in my thoughts as I try to sort through my emotions and feelings. Everything seems so fragile and capable of being lost.

I just can't comprehend it.

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