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We Will All Come Home

Last week, my wife and I visited New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. In a way, the timing was a bit ironic – while we were there, the deadly tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, bringing back eerie thoughts of the devastation along the gulf back in 2005. We both love the Crescent City and the return was long overdue.

It reminded me of what a resilient species we are in spite of ourselves. New Orleans is far from the city it was in 2005, but they are most certainly back. Restaurants are full, the Quarter is jumping and they’re building an ambitious and magnificent World War II Museum that is sure to be a major tourist attraction for years to come.

But it wasn’t without cost. There are plenty of residents displaced by the disaster who still haven’t returned. The Ninth Ward remains devastated, although parts of it has been rebuilt largely due to charities like Habitat for Humanity and Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which continue to raise money to build affordable housing in the area. Many residents are still bitter over the bungling of FEMA and other federal agencies, and of local and state agencies that mismanaged the situation in the critical days following the disaster, and recent findings that the Army Corps of Engineers may have contributed to the disaster with shoddy work on the levees.

No, the citizens of New Orleans were failed in numerous situations but not by the people of the United States and around the world, who gave generously to the stricken city and continue to do so. However, it is a tribute to the spirit of the Crescent City, the fierce devotion to their home and their willingness to make it home again after so much was lost. Famous sons and daughters of New Orleans, like Harry Connick Jr., Ellen de Generes and Branford Marsalis all rallied to the cause in a high-profile manner.

These days, life in New Orleans goes on. People celebrate birthdays at Commander’s Palace, enjoy bananas foster for breakfast at Brennan’s, stroll along the Mississippi at Riverwalk, go boating on Lake Pontchartrain, drive cabs, mow lawns, watch TV. For a good deal of the population, life has returned to normal although I’m sure they get tired of incessant questions from tourists about how they weathered Katrina.

New Orleans is a special place to begin with, but imagine it being your home. We all have an affinity to the place we live, even more so if we’re born there. Some places seem to exert an almost magical hold on the people who live there; San Francisco, Brooklyn, Boston, Detroit…people are rabid there about their home towns. So it is in New Orleans but considering what the city has been through – not just with Katrina and its aftermath, but also with the BP spill last year – that love has intensified and grown even more rabid. There’s nothing like a disaster, natural or otherwise, to bring people together.

New Orleans is a city unique in the world. It has the charm of Southern hospitality ingrained in it. It also has a 24 hour party attitude that brings to mind Las Vegas. There is also a musical heritage as important as that of Vienna and a culinary heritage up there with Paris. The people who live in New Orleans feel a great deal of pride for the city’s accomplishments, not the least of which was the Saints winning the Super Bowl last year.

That’s what home is all about. That’s what binds us to a community, a city – the feeling that we’re together in times both good and bad. It’s the sight of the house at the end of a hard day’s work, the feeling of ease as you turn on the lights against the encroaching darkness. The feeling that here is where you belong, in this place and with these people, is powerful. It’s not something to be discarded easily. In a culture which has become increasingly rootless, that feeling becomes all the more precious, that sense of belonging. We all need to feel that we know where home is. It’s not just where the heart is, but in the soil and in the air. It is a time and a place, and the people above all.

At the end of the day, we all want to go home, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. For those who were uprooted violently from their homes by Katrina in 2005 or in Joplin a couple of weeks ago, the feeling of losing one’s home shakes you to your very core. Still, I know that someday everyone who was forced to leave will come back someday. Come back home. It is where we belong, after all – and where we all deserve to be.


One Response

  1. Americans are a restless breed, very few of us maintain childhood friends, home can be many places.Still, we all yearn for our home, well expressed, Carlos

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