The Meaning of Recovery

 

In writing Recovery, the sequel to my first book To My Senses, I incorporated a great deal of my experiences with the aftermath of Katrina into the novel. It was not a cathartic event but writing this novel did help me to redefine what the concept of recovery meant to me.

 

     I had lived in Lakeview about a half a mile from the now infamous seventeenth street canal. When we were finally allowed back into the city six weeks after the storm, the devastation that greeted me would have made even Irwin Allen cry. My house had been lifted off its foundation and inundated with twelve feet of black water and debris. In an instant, so many happy memories had been reduced to an unsalvageable pile of trash. But worst of all for me, from the grass to the beautiful gardens that had graced this neighborhood, everything that had once been green and filled with life was brown and dead. It was as if the devil himself had blown his putrid breath over our city and killed every living thing in his path. People always used the term come hell or high water; well after Katrina I learned, first comes the high water and then comes the hell.

 

     Gone were the places of my past, the houses I had known and the people I had associated with. It was one thing to grieve the loss of a loved one, but how do you grieve the loss of your city? The street where you had stood to watch Mardi Gras parades, the corner grocery that had always smelled of fresh French bread and spicy boiled shrimp, the restaurant that had served your favorite gumbo, the church where you had prayed for happiness, the home where you had gathered for the holidays, the neighborhood where you had grown up but had never left behind. How do you begin to cope with the loss of everything that up until that moment had been part of you, completed you? In New Orleans it was always said we are where we live, but who are we when we cannot live there anymore? Displaced across the face of the United States were those that had so dearly loved their little bastion of paradise eight feet below sea level. We all knew we were crazy to live there, but insanity tends to breed comfort in many ways. If you’re crazy and you know it at least you don’t have to worry about being crazy anymore.

 

     But how does one describe to an outsider what we went through those first months after the storm? New Orleans had been upended with “the new normal” taking over what FEMA had left behind. Everyday rumors would sweep the city or the outlying parishes about when the promised billions would arrive while over our airways politicians and urban miscreants fought over how to divvy up the goods. Beneath the streets, water mains continually broke making bathing an infrequent occurrence. Electricity came and went leaving many to rely on their generators. Cell phones didn’t work and landlines became the last vestiges of communication linking us to the outside world. Crime took over, making looting, shooting and anarchy a familiar pastime for the citizens of our city while the circling scavengers from the world’s media avidly documented each labored breathe of our struggles. We were hurt, bleeding, in pain and lost. Where in the hell was superman when you needed him?

 

     But to our rescue people came from churches, schools, clubs, fraternities and Fortune Five Hundred companies. They pulled up stakes and headed south to provide comfort and let us know that we were not alone. All those altruists will never know what their actions meant to us. We were and still are eternally grateful to all who packed up their lives to bring us food, water and a lot of encouragement.

     Recovery is a long process from which I have yet to emerge. But like other survivors in our rebuilding city, I am picking up the pieces of my past and with a lot of bleach, a little super glue, and a tower of patience, I am moving on. I have learned that recovery means letting go of what I have lost and facing the uncertainty of tomorrow by appreciating what I hold in my hands today. From every tragedy there is recovery and in every recovery a hopeful new beginning.

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