Monday, October 26, 2015

10 Years of the New Normal

On a sticky Wednesday this past August, Entergy turned off the power to my entire street, from Tchoupitoulas to past Magazine Street. Early that morning, the street filled with large white work trucks, end to end, with orange barriers at each intersection. Men in hard hats milled about, muttering into walkie-talkies.

A week prior, an automated recording told me and my neighbors that the power outage would last all day, and explained why the work needed to be done, but it hardly mattered.

It was a week before the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath destroyed most of our city. The power went out, the work trucks arrived, and anxiety that usually simmers gently below the surface at this time of year began to boil over.

Before the outage, my neighbors gathered on a stoop discussing, preparing: Should we board our pets so they don't overheat? Buy ice and set up coolers to protect perishables? Plan on grilling everything in the freezer? Check on the old folks up the street? One neighbor said he "recreated the conditions" by turning off his A/C on a sweltering afternoon to observe his cat; this same neighbor has never removed the boards over his windows that we helped him hammer into place the days before Katrina. You just never know. And so he chooses to live in the dark.

Throughout August, a flurry of news stories and blog posts hammered away at the 10-year anniversary. How has New Orleans progressed? Where have we stalled? Who is back home? Who has stayed away? It became exhausting.

I found it telling that many of the local museums and galleries offered retrospectives about the storm, but very few of the artwork directly addressed the storm or its aftermath or was from that time period (plenty of amazing and heartbreaking art and literature was created in the immediate aftermath and for years afterward). For those of us living here, we want to move on. We don't want to dwell. We want our floodwalls fixed, our levees solidified, our escape plans in place--and then we want to move on. If we can.

Of course too many people are still dealing with the ramifications of having their homes, lives, families destroyed. Some things can never be forgotten. Nor should they be. But the days march on, and we can choose to live in dark, boarded-up houses or deal with what needs to be dealt with and let in as much sunlight as we can handle.

Hurricane season--June 1 to November 1--is almost officially over. I heaved a sigh of relief once we were past mid-September; that's the peak season for southeastern Louisiana. Of course, reading about the storms and flooding in South Carolina a few weeks ago was heartbreaking. May the families there have a swift recovery.

And may all of us remember to breathe normally the next time the power goes out or a heavy rain begins to fall.

Update 10/28/15: I wrote and scheduled this post before Hurricane Patricia slammed through Mexico and Texas. While over the Pacific, it was the "strongest landfalling Pacific hurricane on record." Luckily, once it hit land, it weakened considerably, and the destruction was much less than it could have been. Prayers and hope to all those who were affected.

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