It was the spring of 1992 and I was falling in love.
Jeff and I had met several months before and had started our courtship with a cautious friendship. But the more time we spent together, the more we knew we didn’t want time to pass without being together.
Among the sweetest memories from that time is the first road trip we took together.
Jeff had spent a year on internship in Jackson, Mississippi–just a stone’s throw from Louisiana. During that year he became quite enamored with New Orleans—her culture, her history, her music, and especially her food.
And so, this is where we went on our first road trip together: The Crescent City–New Orleans.
Perhaps it was because our love was new and still shivered under a fresh bloom, but we were captivated with this Grand Lady of the Mississippi.
Our days were full of color. We walked all over the French Quarter…went on a Sternwheeler River Cruise…toured the garden district and old plantations…
And the food.
I had never tasted such scrumptious dishes.
At night, the streets were alive with magic.
Music wafted out of doors and spilled into the streets. Street musicians and artists filled the corners with eye-goggling stuff.
We found a little club on Bourbon Street called the Cajun Cabin that had good food and even better music.
We danced until the wee hours of the morning—much to the delight of the house band.
“Is ye all Cajun?” The washboard player asked excitedly, his thick accent giving his own origins away.
“No, we’s hillbilly!” We laughed.
The music was our common language.
Year after year we returned to that little tavern on Bourbon Street. The same band was always there…they remembered us and greeted us like old friends. The last year we went I was eight weeks pregnant with our first child.
“I hope you have a little girl as pretty as you,” the guitar player told me. (too bad for that).
Yes, New Orleans was full of charm.
Then, in late August of 2005, I watched the television in horror as Hurricane Katrina bore down on that beautiful city that we love. We hadn’t been there in nine years, but as familiar landmarks flashed across the screen, I felt my heart fall.
It felt personal—this loss, this sinking beauty.
But when the fury of the storm had passed, it was not what lay underneath the muddy waters seeping over tattered levees that brought dismay.
Nay, not that which was covered over.
It was what the storm laid bare that left my conscience writhing and a pit in my stomach.
I stared in stunned silence at that city’s poor…being rescued from rooftops, looting abandoned businesses, seeking refuge in the superdome…
This was not the New Orleans I knew.
Jeff and I did now know if we would ever go back. We felt partially responsible for the plight of these people.
Aren’t we all responsible for one another in the end? Hadn’t we, as tourists, turned a blind eye to this dirty secret of the Crescent City?
Our church sent a mission group down to the Gulf of Mississippi to help with rebuilding there. We collected money and tools and necessary items. Many other organizations did the same. (My friend Chris recently participated on a mission trip there–check out his blog here.)
The rebuilding began.
Almost four years after Katrina, Jeff and I were curious what we would find when we returned to New Orleans last week.
As we crossed Lake Pontchartrain, I snapped pictures through the windshield of the cityscape in the distance.
But as we descended upon the Slidell area, I lowered my camera.
Many of the houses in this part of town were still boarded up, abandoned. A tall hotel stood empty, windows shattered, brick frontage splintered in places.
We were silent as we drew near.
There was death in the air.
We did not know if people died here. But most certainly something else did.
What was washed from the streets of that city with the spilled mud of the Mississippi and the churning waters of the Gulf was…a way of life.
But as we strolled through the streets of New Orleans, there was evidence of rebirth.
These are a resilient people.
Still, the air felt different to me.
Our bartender at the Crescent City Brewhouse said it simply. We bellied up beside him as he shucked oysters.
His face a marriage of grief and optimism.
“It will never be the same again.”
Then he smiled a crooked smile and said, “That may not be all that bad.”
Perhaps it is I that has changed. I know I will never again look at this city in the same way I did all those years ago. I can’t look at the beauty without seeing the loss now.
And somehow, that makes the beauty all the more sweet.
As we ambled through this Grand Lady last week, I felt the years that had passed since we last did so. Not only me, but this great Dame–her streets, her personality—seemed matured.
Love has a way of coloring how we see our world, our surroundings. The newly blossomed love of our first visit to New Orleans…the deeper, more tender love of now…These loves met each other last week in the streets of New Orleans.
And beauty abounded.
It has been said that memories are the only investment that grow exponentially in value over the years.
A guaranteed investment.
I treasure mine.
As long as there is love, Dear Ones, there is always the possibility of resurrection.
Don’t give up on love, Dear Ones. Don’t give up.
ABCs of the Word “H”
I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
and let your glory be over all the earth. (Psalm 108:3-5)
And here’s my self-portrait for Forever in Blue Jeans’ mom in the picture challenge: (week 2)
Looking out at the Atlantic on Pensacola Beach.