Broken levees

When the Levees BrokeI’m in the middle of finally watching When the Levees Broke.

I know. I’m late with this.

I should have expressed more outrage, I think. I shouldn’t have let the anniversary pass with such a light recap of the horrific plans nature had in Southern Louisiana. I should have, instead, said what I felt – feelings I hadn’t had time to flesh out, but all the same important, nagging doubts that made me question everything that had happened in the days following the hurricane.

Or, more specifically, what didn’t happen. Even more specifically, what didn’t happen in the face of so many dying – processes that were slowed up by bureaucracy, opinions that were based so deeply in poverty, a disaster that couldn’t have been anything but horrific but could have been prevented.

There are a lot of groups to blame for what happened. And that’s a fact that no one can dispute. Just who’s to blame is immaterial. It doesn’t matter who did the killing – the dead are dead, the city is in shambles, and the population doesn’t want to come back. Pointing a finger won’t change any of that.

Regardless, I still feel anger. I feel helpless. I watch the heartbreak and feel ashamed that I didn’t do anything. I feel a personal distrust in government. Regardless of Republican, Democratic, Independent – I feel pure rage that something more wasn’t done. I feel pity. I feel sadness. I feel ineffective, complacent and privileged.

And lucky. I feel really lucky.

New Orleans holds a special, though somewhat superficial, place in my heart. It was where my wife and I took our honeymoon – a location so drastically different from other traditional honeymoons that it elicited strange looks whenever we mentioned it. We were freshly married, and we fell in love with the city, transferring our joy and excitement onto the location we were inhabiting for our honeymoon week.

Because of this, the disaster pains me more than I’d expect. It hurts to see such a wonderful town – a city with tons of problems, but also a city with a rich culture, a brilliant history, an extraordinary musical and artistic pedigree – torn apart by nature, indifference and skepticism. It hurts to see so many take advantage of the city, using it for nefarious devices, skyrocketing crime into unforeseen realms and treating a beautiful and original city like the doormat of the South.

But it also strengthens me. It strengthens me to see New Orleans residents doing what they can to rebuild. To hang on. To embrace a city that has been their home for generations, a place that was built by and kept up by their ancestors, a living group of culture purveyors that continue to make the prospect of a new New Orleans possible.

To see the dead – the bloated, down turned bodies and the unrecognizable corpses – and to see the destroyed homes and buildings that had completely disappeared or were being held together by walls that are covered with mold, to see streets lined with nothing but rubble, unable to be pieced together again, is rather disheartening. To say the least. And to think of everything that was lost – not just homes and businesses, but family heirlooms and pictures. Memories. Family members. Loved ones. Mothers. Daughters. An entire way of life, for some people.

I want to return to New Orleans. After watching When the Levees Broke, I can’t help but want to see it in person, that the television isn’t doing the destruction justice.

But I don’t know if I could. I’d be too scared to be that deep. Even after two years, the despair seems palpable.

I should have said this earlier. But I didn’t know how. Now I do.

If you haven’t watched When the Levees Broke, I suggest you do it soon. It’s the only way to truly know what happened during the end of August 2004, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Without actually being there, of course.

This was lovingly handwritten on March 13th, 2007