When I was a kid, another teenager in my family was murdered. I learned a long time ago the cost of talking about it. Even if you could handle the pain of reliving it, people couldn’t tolerate knowing things that awful happen in their world. I’d end up having to comfort the person I told rather than getting their comfort for my pain (and anger, confusion, grief, fear, loss, sadness, despair). Sometimes, people would distance themselves from me to avoid thinking about it. It even became an identity. My best friend from high school recently admitted it was the first thing anyone ever told her about me when she transferred to our school. But every once in awhile, I still try to talk about it.
A few years ago, I shared my loss with a small group and afterward, a woman pulled me aside to try to empathize with me. To connect with me. To share my loss. She said, and I’m not kidding, “I know just how you feel. When my cat died…” People mean well but I couldn’t even hear what she said next. I was too busy trying not to punch her in the face. She did NOT know my pain. She had NOT walked a mile in my shoes. And hearing that she thought she had only served to punctuate how alone I was with it all.
I have a Katrina story about doing relief work in Texas with people who’d come from the Superdome. I met many people who were living their version of the story. But I walked NO miles in their shoes. I do NOT know their pain and I have no desire to point out the gap in my understanding.
News outlets of all kinds have been contacting people throughout the city to ask about our feelings regarding the 10 year anniversary. CNN contacted me and I gave them my opinion on the success (and not) of the recovery effort and what the city means to me. That – I do have thoughts on and you can read them HERE.
I turn the mic over to a few locals and their views. First up is Steve Gleason, Saints hero and ALS activist. Like me, he wasn’t born here but I found his sentiments deeply moving (and Kleenex-worthy).
Kimberly Rivers Roberts was nominated for an Academy Award for Trouble the Water, a documentary with the rarest of footage. A true insider’s journey of a young couple forced to ride out the storm after their car was stolen. It’s excruciating for me to watch but the couple’s resilience is inspiring and Kim’s gift for storytelling through song extends to knowing when to turn on the camera. HERE is an article about the 10 year anniversary and her latest project.
Harry Shearer is best known for his work on The Simpsons but people here know him as a neighbor. 5 years ago, he released his documentary addressing the issue of the causes of the greatest engineering disaster of our time. People here and those who followed the story know that Katrina actually hit Mississippi and demolished the coastline for miles and miles. The wind and rain damage in New Orleans was bad but not at all catastrophic. Then the levees failed and the rest is history. The Army Corps of Engineers has taken responsibility for the levee failures and yet people still think New Orleans suffered a catastrophic “natural” disaster.
I haven’t had the stomach lately to endure watching things I know make me furious so, though I respect the reputation of The Big Uneasy, I can’t say I’ve watched it. Shearer released the film hoping it would help rectify the rewriting of history he saw happening in the media, the public discourse and at the highest levels of government. 5 years later, our city is enduring an onslaught of articles nationwide with headlines as insane as “In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina” (wish I were kidding). Most assert that the city is “better” BECAUSE of Katrina. I’m not even going to speak on the callous lunacy of that. I do acknowledge that investing relief money in any city could, of course, improve that area of investment. But it would be the investment that made the city “better,” not the hell preceding it.
I’m not going to write about Katrina. I’m going to go back to not using that word again and calling it The Storm like usual. I’m going to go back to loving my flawed and fabulous city. But many far more knowledgeable people have written books and articles, made movies and sung songs. I urge you to explore those.
4 responses to “Why I Won’t Be Writing About Katrina”
Laura, you have made a dignified statement from the heart that is much more touching than the glib “assessments” from passers by in the national media. How in the world someone can claim such a tragedy ”
improved a city is beyond me.
I enjoy your blog very much. Thank you for being so polite when I briefly said that to you on Magazine Street about three weeks ago. I did not want to bother you, but know that most of us humans do appreciate positive feedback.
Thank you so much for all of your kind words. And it’s definitely true that most of us appreciate positive feedback. This blog is a labor of love so I tease that I’m paid in compliments.
I admire your choice to refrain from participating in the Katrina+10 chorus, but please know that your perspective continues to be necessary for New Orleans to become the great city that it can be. Familial connections to the city are relevant, but experiences from living in other places provide insights which are essential to creating a better city for the future.
Many assume that New Orleans’ flaws are mitigated by its traditions and history. Celebrating traditions is important, but embracing change is raison d’être. New Orleans can be an anachronism for visitors, but it must be the future for those who choose to be its citizens.