Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent with family, gifts and talk, perhaps no different than the many such annual gatherings as before. But it was not the same. How could it be?
For one thing, Christmas after-lunch talk was all about Katrina. My various relations from St. Bernard Parish each had a strange and exciting story to tell about what happened to them when Hurricane Katrina came, or what happened to their neighbors, or worst of all, what rumors they had heard about what happened when no one was looking. It was just a little overwhelming.
And then my brother, who had not come to visit this Christmas, called me with holiday greetings. I had thought he was spending time with his wife's family, or hosting people at his own home this year and that's what prevented him from visiting us. But no. He told me the reason he did not come to New Orleans this year was because he did not want to impose.
Impose? Since when is it an imposition to visit with family during the holidays? I scolded him of course, and told him that family is always welcome under any circumstances. At least that's my rule. Over the course of a long conversation, he explained his reasoning to me and I give him credit for at least trying to be considerate.
But as I've written here more than once, things like houses, clothes, cars and other things really aren't what makes life good. Life is about interacting with others, especially loved ones.
In the end, I probably came down too hard on him. After all, he's living in a whole different state and can't possibly fathom what is really going on here. Yes, there's devastation. Yes, there's decay and debris throughout the city. A lot of people away from New Orleans don't understand that; my brother perhaps understands it too well.
But there is life and hope, too. Although the city is mostly dark, there are Christmas lights. Although the gardens are brown and drowned, there are new leaves sprouting from the earth. Although our homes are shattered and uninhabitable, families gather to share a meal, talk and celebrate.
It is what we did in the past, what we do in the present, and what we will do in the future.