When some people think about New Orleans in the six years since Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the town they think residents are crazy for sticking around and rebuilding. My take is different. I see a lesson in survival.
I'm writing this while sitting on my sister's front porch in the Lakeview neighborhood, a part of town that sat in eight feet of flood waters for three weeks after the storm. When I lived in this house as a kid this porch was three feet above the lawn. Now it's eight feet up. Damn flood ain't gonna mess with this house again.
The street I'm looking at has better blacktop than before Katrina, the sidewalk is now smooth and level, unlike pre-K days when it buckled from uneven settling ground and the grass is green. I still clearly remember this scene six weeks after the hurricane. The street was torn up, the ground was brown with caked dirt leftover from the receding cesspool flood waters and there were abandoned cars in the median, parked there by evacuees hoping the vehicles they couldn't take with them would be safe sitting a foot higher than street level.
What hit me this morning, however, as I look over this scene is this: the trees and shrubs in the median are the same ones that were here that week I helped my sister throw away most of the flood-soaked contents of her house. That week those trees looked dead. But they survived and now they thrive. There are many vacant lots around here but there are also many rehabbed houses. And many new houses. Many of the people on this block came back and rebuilt. Their lives survived.
That is the lesson and inspiration. If you want something bad enough you can have it. People here have a "let the good times roll" mentality that often masks an incredible tenacity. I guess if you willingly live in a town that sits three feet below sea level and is almost entirely surrounded by water, you learn to survive. Either that or you're too lazy or stupid to move to higher ground.
I don't plan to ever live here again but I celebrate the positive and continuing lessons learned from my connection with this unique place.