It's happened...we've made it to Year Six after the events of 8/29/2005 in the greater New Orleans area, and boy, are we tired. Honestly, I spent a good chunk of yesterday catching up on sleep when I wasn't checking Twitter obsessively, because my weekend was chock full of activity. Between the Rising Tide conference, my first day back teaching religious school in a long while, and taking the little guy and one of his friends out for a swim afterwards - not to mention our current troubles with a whole lot of smoke inundating the area - I had to sneak in some shut-eye sometime.
Not surprisingly, there are still a lot of problems here.
Lack of health care facilities in the city is a big one.
Yeah, our levees still aren't so hot...but hey, things on the face of it do look physically better in many parts of the city, and for folks like Athenae to see the changes and remark upon them does help us feel that perhaps we really aren't sitting still even though it may feel like it at times...perhaps the changes we are trying to push uphill in the manner of a latter-day Sisyphus won't roll back down on us and crush us, exposing our vulnerabilities for all to see.
What comes to mind most of all this anniversary time around for me, though, is more than just who can speak for us. I think so many of us have learned by now that if we don't raise our voices, at least make an effort to educate others on what and where the needs are, even raise our own hands to help as much as possible, then nothing will get done. If none of us stand for this city, it will fall. What I get concerned about still is a sense of scale that we must still constantly convey.
How best to illustrate this?
I don't have cable or satellite TV in my own home, but the place where I've been working out pretty regularly has it so that people aren't bored out of their gourds on the ellipticals, the stationary bikes, and the treadmills (I found an elliptical machine one morning that everyone was avoiding because its TV was out of order even though the machine itself was fine. Says a lot about how we regard the repetitive motions we do to keep ourselves in shape these days...). I caught an encore episode of No Reservations in Liberia while channel flipping and kept it there while I exercised. Coming attractions of Anthony Bourdain's show cropped up in the commercial break, and I found myself shocked into near-stillness when I saw where he was headed next. It took one quick clip to bring Chernobyl into a certain relief I'd never even considered before - or perhaps I'd refused to consider it. Photographs by folks such as Robert Polidori have a certain eerieness, to be sure: there's still something sad about such abandonment, but it somehow fails to sear the heart like suddenly seeing people right next to the source of such horror and pain - both of which are, in fact, ongoing. It's that feeling that brings a tragedy made distant by Time magazine and the passing of time itself right into your lap, the it could happen here that demands you look at it right now, see it for what it really is.
The levee breaches happened here. They really did. Those moments of scale won't ever leave us. The trick now is to live with those shocks and keep striving as we have all these years without beating ourselves and others over the head with the enormity of the tragedy that befell the Gulf Coast over half a decade ago, because we all have some living to do. That does not mean forgetting - it means continuing to rise above, turning the tragedies into lessons learned and making that work for us all.
Long way to go, indeed. But we are still here. And it's amazing how much of a difference that makes.
In this sixth year, the strength to stay is what must constantly be mustered. I for one look forward to helping keep that alive.