Saturday, August 26, 2006

It's the little things that can get to you sometimes.

Driving down the street yesterday, I took a good look around and thought about all the businesses that are gone and the ones that sprouted up in their places, and about all the places that have hung on by their fingernails or have thrived for many years. Places where, ten years ago, there were thrift stores, there are now renovated malls or simply properties that have been superficially spruced up and are waiting for someone to sign a lease. Just the usual stuff that happens on any retail street in this country.

I stopped at a traffic light and checked out the city bus that was waiting at the opposite corner for the light to change. It wasn't a New Orleans RTA bus, it was a SEPTA bus from Philadelphia. The symbols of its former city were wiped out as much as they could be on short notice, but the destination on the bus' marquee was one for the northeastern part of the country. Guess it couldn't be reprogrammed for this city. Oh, well, it's still taking people from place to place here...something that this town still needs.

I thought about a former coworker and acquaintance I ran into at the grocery store the other day, a fellow who I would have loved to talk to more, but my son's insistence that we drive the shopping cart truck around trumped that impulse. The guy had been a bit aimless when I last worked with him four years ago, except for the burning need he had to finish college. Right now, he's got a master's under his belt and is currently working with someone I had some conflicts with when I first came down here to work. I found myself wishing that with all the therapy I've had over the years, I wish someone had really taught me how best to forgive. My thoughts about past slights on me, real and imagined, might well have colored my conversation with this acquaintance when I heard who he was working with now. It startled me, as it always does, to think that some feelings can burn for decades, usually the bad ones.

I'm really happy for my former coworker, though. He put in the hard work and made it!

Which is what we all need to do down here, despite the way in which our mayor runs his mouth. Bashing the reconstructions and reimaginings of Ground Zero isn't going to help rebuild this city any faster or better. And picking at all the ways in which this city isn't measuring up to anyone's nostalgic or futuristic visions won't help, either. The past always looks better in hindsight, and it's so much better to be working away towards a better future with hands and heart rather than sitting around and speculating with one's brain - at least, not too much speculating!

Of course, this is always so much better to say than to do. I have to catch myself from looking at the little things and judging by those, case in point being a brochure that Tulane University sent out recently. The whole thing touts Tulane's and New Orleans' recovery and resurgence, and features an aerial shot just inside the brochure's cover of Tulane's main buildings on St Charles Avenue. The picture reveals some grand old buildings situated on a green lawn, typical of most college campuses that have been around since the nineteenth century, truly a reassuring vision. I have to constantly restrain myself from looking for the details that signify hurricane damage, however: roof slates/tiles/shingles missing, windows broken on the upper floors of buildings, missing trees or shrubs. Despite some flooding in the university area (and it was well known locally as a floodplain in any kind of substantial rain), the place is still there, and students are coming back.

A common problem amongst the New Orleans based universities now is the difficulty in recruiting students, especially for the NCAA sports teams. Coaches' complaints are that the city is coming back, but all the parents have to see is one report on CNN or the national news about the slow pace of recovery and the potential student passes on coming down. The numbers have gone down for registration of kids at the religious school where I will be teaching once a week, to the point where there is some speculation into combining some grade levels, a move no one wants to take. It's miraculous that the religious school is in session, period.

But it is one little thing that got to me the most. I was able to attend Friday night services at a local synagogue, and the rabbi there addressed the fact that Katrina's anniversary, a yahrzeit (day of remembrance), was coming up. Instead of sermonizing about it, he opened up discussion to us all in assembly as to what good had come out of the storm and its aftermath. People talked of stronger connections with neighbors who had decided to stay and rebuild. One man said not only did he get a brand new downstairs in his house (!), he was also heartened by the out- pouring of support and tzedakah (charity) from all levels of the national and international Jewish community towards Katrina survivors and evacuees. People seemed to reconnect with others from being housed elsewhere when their properties and lives were flooded out or otherwise destroyed. I recalled how many people up in New York were concerned about Dan and I and our connections here: they had a need to help in whatever way they could.

I then realized that I've been in mourning all this past year, since the storm hit. This is the one place I have always considered to be my home, the place where I first started to live life truly apart from my parents. In a sense, around this time last year, I went through about a week of intense sorrow for the city and our friends here, culminating in my refusal to watch, see, or read any more about the tragic goings-on. Things have been tougher and easier since then, as I guess all mourning periods are. Which is why it is fitting for me seeing the large memorial stone that has been erected in the Ninth Ward for Katrina's victims. It's not an end, but a beginning.

The twenty-ninth is coming, complete with a bell-ringing ceremony and a memorial visit from our president. I have to sit on my hands so that I won't type what I really think about his presence here... but for all of us to move on, we need to let that kind of thinking go.

Maybe my forgiveness of others is beginning as well.

I hope so.

No comments: