More than 15 months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the coast and New Orleans, we remain in dark times.
Rows of houses that once glowed in the early evening with the warm light of family and community now sit dark and cold in the blighted neighborhoods of the city. Their windows, like empty eye sockets, stare blindly at the streets that are for the most part devoid of life and passersby.
Street lights and traffic signals are a not a given. Some whole streets grow dark when the sun sets and stay dark. Some intersections simply blink with tentative reds and yellows all day long; nobody gets the green light here.
The street lights of my neighborhood, Vista Park, are for the most part operating. But the houses remain unlit. The chill that moved across New Orleans this week personifies the lifeless state of homes here. Repaired homes are few, and FEMA travel trailers are widely spaced along the suburbanesque streets.
But squatting conspicuously (almost defiantly) amid the destruction, is our boxy little FEMA travel trailer, lit up like Times Square.
It’s one of those odd turn of events: because the flood water stopped just inches from the ceiling of our former home, we lost most everything except what was in the attic. We might not have the furniture and the records and the books and the clothes and the linens and the mementos and the pots and pans and every-damn-thing-else of sentimental and practical value, but doggone it—we’ve got Christmas decorations!
This weekend, I climbed a ladder and strung five strings of “icicle” lights all the way around our cubist abode. My Darling Wife thinks it makes the place look beautiful. It was an odd feeling, putting up those same lights that used to ring my house on a trailer, a borrowed trailer that sits just twenty feet from where my home used to be.
All around us sit the empty, rotting carcasses of the flood-ravaged homes or the wide vacant lots where the houses have been removed. The full moon paints their decomposing shells in a melancholy patina.
But here there is light and life. As we approach the deepest, darkest day of winter, we join in the worldwide celebration of the season of lights.
Like so much I do in New Orleans post-Katrina, it’s a sad but celebratory moment. A chance to recall once again how much is lost, and how much remains. A chance to remember that it’s not at all about the buildings--the mere wood and bricks and glass and carpet--that made this a nice neighborhood. It was the warmth and light of the people that made these houses special, that made this city shine.
No, there are not a lot of lights here. But there are certainly more than last year, and less than next year. For now, this bright little FEMA travel trailer will have to suffice.