When the water was rising, we were long gone. Not one to ever consider my property more important than my life, with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on New Orleans, I packed up the family and pets and headed to high ground.
Once it was safe, we came back. We came back to be a part of the new rising, the rising of a storm-battered city from its soggy knees. We came back to be among people rising to face new challenges for this old city--challenges that at first consisted of unfeeling weather and lackluster government, challenges that grew to include scarce money and resources, challenges that now include apathy, stubbornness and crime perpetrated on our fellow citizens.
But we came back, all the same. We came back because this city exists for a damn good reason. We came back because America depends on this city to support the commerce that travels the largest river in North America and the port that is this nation's portal to the Americas. We came back because just like the ancient oaks that line the avenues, our roots dive deep into the moist earth here, so that it becomes hard to distinguish between what is root and what is soil--or what is solid and what is soul.
We took on the difficulties of living here, and did it willingly, eagerly, happily. We took on the indifference of government at all levels--the dysfunction of the city, the stymied response of the state, and the torturous federal government that seems determined to constantly offer one hand of help while slapping us with the other. We took on the apoplexy of family, the discouragement of friends, and the distant whining of neighbors who did not return.
We came back because this city is worth saving. We came back because these neighborhoods are worth saving. We came back because it was the right thing to do, and if you don't understand that, I'm sorry, but I can't explain it to you in words. No words, no songs, no picture, no cognitive representation at all can capture the soul of this community.
And this community is rising. It rises on the strength of thousands of tired feet, the feet of people marching on City Hall. It rises on the voices of community activists like Bart Everson, who stood tall in front of City Hall and intelligently and emotionally reminded us and our elected leadership that inaction was not an option.
Our community rises on the padded shoulders of professional football players who play the game like a team sport, who speak of loyalty and shared responsibilities, and who themselves have risen farther than any team before them. It rises on the determination of homebuilders to never again fall victim to the whims of nature or the shortcomings of manmade protections.
When the water was rising, it covered New Orleans with muddy layers of despair and misery.
But now it is New Orleans that is rising, above the flood of indifferent nature, above the failings of government, above the brutality of misguided miscreants. New Orleans is rising. I see it in the increasing tempo of construction in my neighborhood. I see it in the newly created Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East Bank Board, which includes five licensed professional engineers and zero political cronies. I see it in the fierce dedication to city and team on Ashley's tattooed arm.
New Orleans is rising, slowly, one stair step at a time, one house at a time, one school at a time, but the uplifting movement is real and palpable. Like raising a family, or raising one's level of education, we take it one day at a time, we celebrate the small victories and learn from our mistakes.
We came back, and New Orleans is coming back, too.