JoyI admit it: I cried.
I cried at the end of the movie “Goodbye Girl” when the actor played by Richard Dreyfuss asks Marsha Mason to get his guitar re-strung while he was away. I cried while reading “Shoeless Joe,” later made into the movie “Field of Dreams,” as the writer/protagonist Ray Kinsella describes his love of both his father and baseball.
And I cried on Canal Street on Mardi Gras day.
Early in the morning, my Darling Wife, daughter and I all put on costumes at the house. We painted our faces and wrapped grass skirts around our waists in preparation for Mondo Kayo, the marching club we've been a part of for several years.
Grass skirts are the official costume of Mondo Kayo, which a local writer described as “bare midriffs, colorful halter tops, eye-catching headdresses, an island mystique, strange socks, samba music, the sound of castanets and percussion instruments, a fish necklace, some gyrating, pulsating, sexy dancing, and -- Ay, Chihuahua!”
Mondo Kayo’s tradition is to wake up New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day. Many people camp out along the St. Charles Avenue parade route in order to claim a prime location for Tuesday’s festivities. Others arrive near dawn to get a spot even though they’ve been up late or in some cases all night long enjoying Lundi Gras.
We marched out at 7:30 a.m., blasting (and as a long-time rock’n’roller, I can witness to this fact) blasting infectious Caribbean dance music that barrels down the avenue and bounces from building to building. There were smiles, and yawns, and cheers.
And when he passed Gallier Hall, the former city hall of New Orleans, where the Mayor and Council and all the muckety-mucks who claim to “serve” the citizens have reserved box seats, we stopped to toast the leaders of the northern-most banana republic. "May your banana trees never freeze," we proclaimed.
We headed down St. Charles toward world-famous Canal Street, the route lined with happy, festive people, some in costume, some in brightly colored attire. And even though it was us in the street and they behind the barricades, we were all there to participate in this public party.
As we crossed Poydras, the enormity of the moment swept up on me. Look at all these people, I thought. Look at the pure pleasure of their existence. Mother Nature and government had done practically everything possible to sap their spirit. Citizens who had once had good homes and good jobs had watched them wash away in the fury of flood and wind. Loved ones, more than 1,300 people, were left dead in the wake of Katrina. The aid and comfort of government that followed was slow and, in some cases, ineffectual.
But today, on the streets of New Orleans, joy.
Joy to be alive, and living in all places, here.
As we approached Canal Street, I thought about how special this was, how lucky I was to be here. I knew that just about everywhere else in America, even most of the world, today was just another Tuesday. It was just another day at work or school. It was just another day to toil and strive and survive.
But here, here in the city of New Orleans, survival is not enough. Sustenance is not the goal, but merely the means to the goal.
Here in New Orleans, Survivors celebrated and rejoiced in their survival. We are alive, the city said on Mardi Gras, and being alive is wonderful and joyous.
It hit me full force once we arrived on Canal Street. This city that had been through so much in the past six months simply refused to lie down. This city, still struggling with a lack of basic utilities and a shortage of schools, was not going to let a mere hurricane steal its soul.
All around me were the shouting, clapping, happy throngs of Americans who refused to surrender. The music of Mondo Kayo infiltrated the crowd and set feet to dancing to the blissful beats. All around, the sounds of joy.
I felt the tears flow into my eyes, and I wondered if anyone would see me dancing, smiling and crying at the same time. I wondered, too, if the tears that fell would leave streaks in my face paint, making me look like a pathetic clown.
I could not stop. I kept dancing and I kept crying for about two blocks. And as much as I cried for the death and destruction that had fallen upon this beautiful city and its loving people, I also cried for joy.
And if someone would later notice the tear lines down my face, I decided I would not hide or explain it away. I decided I would admit that I did in fact cry on Mardi Gras day.
It felt good.