After witnessing the effects of hurricanes over the years of living on the Gulf Coast, one of the most amazing things about them is the chaos they create, and what comes out of it. You take a group of variables and apply the same stimulus to them, after a period of time, patterns form. You suddenly alter that stimulus and … chaos. But after the chaos, new patterns begin to form.
It’s like that well-known Butterfly Effect theory: If a butterfly’s wings can unleash a hurricane, how many butterfly wings can a hurricane unleash? Dubious I know, but the point is while hurricanes are known destroyers of lives and livelihoods, they are also inspiring. They change routines. They expose. They bring weakness and prejudice to the surface. They show the mettle of high-powered men. They punish the weak.
Hurricanes are nature, God, The Universe, whatever you consider the higher power to be. A brash man who meticulously mows his lawn every week and arranges shrubbery and large stones to different positions on his parcel may think he has subdued the land. A hurricane tames his arrogance.
The Hurricane doesn’t have a plan, it has no intent. It is our charge to apply meaning to it. It’s the discussion of science vs. art. We are tasked with telling the stories, writing the words, singing the songs and painting the pictures of what happened.
Five years ago, a hurricane with a huge storm surge pushed seawater into a lake created by a meandering river and into canals that had poorly built floodwalls and caused a flood that not only killed many people but also destroyed photo albums, business forms, heirlooms, pieces of history. It also pushed sea water over levees that were too short and down a navigational canal where it lifted a barge and pushed it into a neighborhood.
I still can’t imagine it. A scared Ninth Ward resident with water flowing through their home, hears a louder, more bound and relentless sound and looks out their window to see a barge coming at them. And then that’s it. What chance did they have?
The chaos of a storm is unyielding. It can throw a barge into a neighborhood and also takes the time to obliterate the matchbook a man wrote his future wife’s phone number on 30 years before.
Today is a day of remembrance and those neighbors we lost will be honored. The voids they are leaving are a chaos all their own. Along with the “other victims,” those unclassifiable friends we lost from cancers, heart attacks, drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide in the years following.
I’m just one person and not some symbol of New Orleans but I have seen improvements in my life since the Flood. I am earning more income, have a better quality of life and live by many of my own terms. I have been married. I have finished working on my home and added value to it. I have developed and continue to develop a circle of friends and social contacts – these are New Orleans artists, builders, mothers, business people. I have a deeper empathy, sympathy for my neighbors. So, for me, things have recovered. We’ll see.
That’s not saying much though. When the storm hit, I was recently laid off, had a solid but dumpy house. Was engaged to my wife but had no reasonable plan to get married. I was also uninspired, blogless, artless and very much wanting…of anything.
The flood happened and everything just changed, strangely for the better.
But I know it’s different for my neighbors. My wife and I took a day trip through Saint Bernard Parish recently and it hasn’t recovered. I spoke with a friend who lives in Lakeview and it hasn’t recovered. I have a few clients down in Plaquemines and it’s still recovering. Brad Pitt has built some innovative housing in the Lower 9 but it hasn’t recovered.
Some may say that with Ray Nagin out of office and Mitch Landrieu in, that city government has recovered but with the millions and millions in budget shortfall, I couldn’t agree. City government hasn’t recovered. Of course, the disaster of our broke city (like the Flood) was man made. Just not the same men.
The Criminal justice system, with the departures of Eddie Jordan and Warren Riley has begun its recovery in the courts. But with a dozen or so indictments within the NOPD, they haven’t recovered.
Flood protection is improving but not there yet. It’s recovered but we need it greatly improved.
But there is a greater realization and importance now in our own salvation. More people care. Whether they are a dejected local who thought things were never going to change or an outsider who has since come here to help.
But where will it all lead?
It’s like the Taoist fable…
An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“We’ll see,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“We’ll see,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“We’ll see,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“We’ll see” said the farmer.