Sunday, August 29, 2010

Finding a Home, Finding an Identity

How does one describe being from New Orleans? Of the City's intrinsic beauty, its pride, its excitement, its devotion to a team and to a Faith? Can things such as this be quantified or measured? Can it be snuffed out, washed to sea, blown away? Can anyone defeat such a Joy in Life as well as in death, where death is no time for mourning but celebrating the Past? The answer is found in the embodiment of a team that isn't just a team, it's part of the intrinsic nature of New Orleans. The Saints are New Orleans. And New Orleans is the Saints. Summed up in so many words: WHO DAT!

And this is what is interesting above all about New Orleans: a paradoxical love and a faith that withstands every countenance of despair and attempt of shedding. It is found in a city that weaves in a faith not blind to life, but rather one lived inside of it. It is neighbor helping neighbor. It is the yearly Carnival celebrations beside one's fellow neighbor that, indeed, they've survived another hurricane season. It is celebrations of the Saints win or lose (but especially with the wins).

Places of childhood do not leave one's mind—not the good or the bad, not the ugly or the indifferent. So it is with me—yet the last thing New Orleans will leave you as is indifferent. Not even hurricanes, which wipe off many markers of the past, or man-made engineering disasters, which finish off where Mother Nature began her work, not even these disasters will tear from memory these mementos of days gone by. New Orleans is altogether different, another category altogether.

The place has a way of instilling both a pride of place and a sadness of when progress has been stopped, delayed, or hampered. It breeds la joie de vivre and disappointment. It is a city that is far from perfect, but it is one of distinctiveness that all who are associated with it take great pride in. It is an identity that no hurricane or distance can dissipate.

It is a city that has been, since its inception, a city to be documented, but not only documented but also lived. It is a city to live vicariously in, whether it is of the past, present, or the future. They are all contained within the ramparted streets of that unique leveed city. Once you are there, you never truly depart.

One always has a piece of the city whether you've been there a day, a year, or a lifetime. The only difference is that when you move away, you become an ambassador of that spirit of life shared. It speaks to the soul like no other place in world can. And sometimes, when the voices get to be too many, one cannot realize this until it is the only voice to remain from the sprawl and noise of another place, a place where all things are manufactured and not grown, a place where the façade is the only thing present.

Yet, one's ambassadorship remains, as though one is left in a second-rate hotel room waiting out the exile to return home. It is a strange love affair that New Orleans breeds. One that remains as thick as the humid air of that river city and remains despite all odds.

More now than ever does New Orleans and the Gulf Coast need its ambassadors. Love affairs do not end once the beloved is gone, they only grow stronger. And, in it, the bonds of those who traveled those hallowed streets, celebrated its unique joy, and lived in those homes now rebuilt but not forgotten can be remembered, renewed, and represented to others as a reminder of the ones who did not make it out of the surly floodwaters or the strong headwinds of the Gulf, of the ones who survived Katrina those five years ago this day if only as a memory to our hearts, to our Louisiana.

If any song will bring me back to Louisiana... if songs had the power to do such things... this one would be it. Louisiana will always be home to me with New Orleans as its heart, wrapped in a faith true.

God bless New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and the whole Gulf Coast as we mark this fifth anniversary of the Storm that did not break the will of people of the Gulf Coast. It may have washed the shores of a challenged land, but its people will not waver. Its people will not retreat. Its people will prosper and rebuild and renew a place, a face of what is best about America. God bless Louisiana.

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