Two or three weeks after Gustav picked up and shook the hell out of Baton Rouge last year, a friend of mine and I went down to New Orleans to go see a show, ecstatic to be able to think about something other than piles of debris and when the Entergy trucks were going to arrive. We ran into friends from New Orleans at the bar who offered, “Man, I heard ya’ll got hit pretty bad up there.” It triggered an immediate litany of hardships we’d been practicing for weeks before, a desperate narrative of “orange zones” and no air-conditioning and “where the hell are those tree trucks” until we caught ourselves. Who were we regaling our woes to, now? People from New Orleans who went through Katrina? These friends were kind enough to let us shut up on our own.
Suffering and trauma are not competitive sports, and there is no guilt in remembering how trying those weeks were last year right after Gustav, how helpless many of us felt in that time, but really, the biggest lingering effects I have from that storm are a branch that was nailed into my garden by a tree that needed to come down anyway and the whittling down of my personal hubris. Next hurricane, we are getting out of Dodge.
Katrina, however, feels like it was born a lifetime ago, a lifetime that has been spent actively in its presence. Katrina was and remains a product of system failures, and I don’t just mean floodwalls and levees. Its effects stretch well beyond the New Orleans city limits. Now that Katrina is no longer a screaming infant but a potential problem child walking and talking on its own, we need to start guiding what it does, what kind of life it is leading and how we interact with it. We need to correct the behaviors, attitudes and legacies with which it was born and make it a productive member of society. It is not just going to go away.
Be this an anniversary you solemnly observe, celebrate or ignore altogether, don’t take this place we inhabit for granted. Go live in it.