Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reflections 10 years in the making: Reflection 1

If you've ever heard my Katrina story, it starts something like this...

"On Thursday night, I went to my first graduate class.  On Saturday morning, we evacuated."  And what I might not say, but I think each and every time is, "...and then life, as I knew it, was over."

Well, August 25, 2005--exactly 10 years ago today--was that Thursday night.  And here I am, 10 years later, ready to start my 2nd (and final) year of graduate school tomorrow morning.

Those who know me well understand that my education is tied into my work and my heart's passions, and always has been.  My hope is to fight for those who have no fight... to support the underdog... to bring justice where there is no justice.  My BA in Family Counseling, although a great start, was not enough to prepare or credential me for the type of work I wanted to do.  Consequently, I knew I needed a Masters degree to find the meaningful work I'm wired for.  The writer of Ecclesiastes concludes that fulfillment in life is found by doing meaningful work (and enjoying food and drink... let's not forget that part!).  After the storm, it was clear to me that I had lost all purpose because I lost my open door to meaningful work.  In the years following Katrina, I had to find meaning elsewhere.  And I didn't do it very successfully.

That might be one of the most painful parts of my story.  I was a brand new wife when we "lost" what New Orleans was supposed to be for us.  We weren't even married yet when we knew we'd lost what our new married life was supposed to look like (along with the house we would spend it in); then I quickly and unexpectedly became a new Mom.  I've watched new moms since then.  I know they're supposed to be happy, scared and excited.  They're supposed to twitter with nervous energy and be preoccupied with which nursery d├ęcor will create the most charming and hospitable environment for their precious new baby.  They should be enjoying the company of doting family and friends, together celebrating the onset of a new journey. 

That's not what I had.  I had my husband's wonderful friends, whom I'd just met, put together a lovely shower for me that I'm sure I didn't know how to be grateful for at the time.  My Mom hosted a shower for me in Maryland (in my absence) and sent me a video along with all the gifts and cards from people who've known me my whole life and were attempting to love and celebrate me from afar during this monumental time in my life.  (Just recently, I came across some of the items from that shower and fell into a puddle of tears because I'd never really understood what I'd missed... or the sweet hearts of the people who were there to support me.)

Not to mention the fact that I blamed my husband for everything "I" had lost.  Not "us".  Not "we".  Just me. 

I was in a foreign place.  We moved into a new apartment three weeks before Isabella was born.  There are some days when I wonder if she wasn't a lifeline to get me through the mess to find meaning again instead of giving up.  I wonder if I would have just run away had it not been for her.

That sounds so fatalistic.  But if you only knew the propensity I had (have?) for self-pity, you would understand.  My skin was not as tough as I wanted people to think it was.  I couldn't handle disaster.  And maybe it was less that I couldn't handle the disaster, and more that I couldn't handle not being in the middle of the disaster trying to fix everything.  I didn't know how to not be needed when the biggest need I'd ever seen was playing out in a place I'd called home.

In any case, here I sit, exactly 10 years after my story began, trying to make sense of it with some finality.  Part of this 10 year reflection process is to hopefully remember who I was and what was important to me before the decade of wandering began.  I know a lot is similar, but I do believe that I disconnected from that person, that life, in a lot of ways.  I want to be whole, and wholeness has to include my lifespan--not just the person I became "after the flood". 

So I want to remember as much as I can, and be as thoughtful as I know how.  My disclaimer is this: I do not claim that my story is heroic or worthy of highlight as we commemorate the 10 year anniversary of Katrina.  There are others who were brave, who lost lives, those who rebuilt and who did the work of rebuilding a city.  There are people who lost more than I can fathom because, although New Orleans won my heart, it was not the place I grew up or grew my family.  There are others who grieved the city more than I.  My hope is that anyone who was touched by Katrina 10 years ago will set out on a journey to commemorate, mourn and celebrate their story in ways that make sense to them.  I also hope that those who so eagerly offered hope and help to us from around the Nation 10 years ago, will also offer a listening ear and a little bit of love as some of us continue working through the meaning of it all.