City of New Orleans will rise from despair
It's been a little more than 24 hours since my eight-day nightmare ended. Using the Internet and with the help of Nevada friends, I was finally able to track down my former husband, who had evacuated New Orleans to Katy, Texas, with my daughter, Noelle. She'll be arriving here, and we'll have to deal with the trauma and confusion I heard in her voice over the phone. She is developmentally challenged and doesn't really understand why she can't go back to school as she always has in the past when the hurricane has gone.
She likes visiting Nevada, but New Orleans is her home. I know how she feels. As the images of total destruction fly across the television, familiar streets and places from my life tug at my heart and cast a somber shadow on my soul. The haunted faces of displaced men, women and children could have been just about anyone I used to know. It is so utterly sad.
Believe me, the last week has been one of the most agony-filled times of my life. Not knowing if your child escaped and survived the mass destruction is unbearable. But now that I know she's all right and actually on her way here, I can finally exhale. Like any mother, I don't think that I'll ever be able to let her go again.
As a New Orleans native, I am grateful to all the decent and good people across the country who so generously open their hearts and wallets to help the victims of this tragedy. Americans are a great people. The areas most affected by the flooding are where the poorest of the poor live. These are the people who have little in life, yet lost even that.
Most Nevadans do not know that level of poverty and the despair it creates. We are lucky. Thousands upon thousands of good and honest people meet the challenges of institutionalized poverty with determination to survive and a will to make the best of a bad situation. It's a rare, unique spirit that pervades the city. New Orleaneans always joke, "It comes from drinking the water." In great measure, this spirit is what gives New Orleans its special character:
We've been doing it for 300 years. And, yes, New Orleans will rebuild. The nation can't afford to lose this cultural and economic treasure. Our gifts to the country have been so significant: one of the largest ports in the country, oil, natural gas, crops, delicious food, magnificent architecture and, of course, jazz. America would not be the America we know had New Orleans not existed.
I have no doubt that my beloved city will be changed, but it's the people of New Orleans who will determine just how it will be changed. One thing is certain, however, any future visitor will be treated to the luxury of a warm, welcoming embrace from grateful citizens.
I'm going to give my daughter the biggest hug of her life. She will know absolutely how much I care for her. She'll stay for a while. It will be months before her school can reopen. The problem is not just the physical damage to the school and the lack of infrastructure. Many of the staff and caregivers will not be available. Indeed, some may be among the dead.
So if you see me and Noelle around town, I hope that you will give her a smile or a friendly hello It will mean a lot to her, and it may make you feel better, too. She can be shy. But she gives as good as she gets. The same can be true for most New Orleaneans. If you hear a soft, gentle "y'all" in the coming months, it may be one of the rescued. Welcome them as generously and wholeheartedly as they have always welcomed you. In a real way, your personal kindness can help ease the pain of being from the Big Easy.
Don't squander those terms of endearment
Terms of endearment indeed, referring to letter of Aug. 31. When you squander your terms of endearment on strangers, don't those terms become hollow and meaningless?
How then will you address those who are truly deserving of your affection? In recent years, this rebellion against formality has become as widespread as the idiotic habit of declaring anything that is passably acceptable "awesome." What word will they find to describe something truly awe-inspiring?
Would that John Wayne were still with us. With his use of "pilgrim," "stranger," even "friend," he could probably suggest something suitable.
Heaven forbid that anyone utter anything so formal and old fashioned (and respectful?) as "sir" or "ma'am."
Meanwhile, we will probably continue to be assaulted with silly "terms of endearment" at every coffee shop and physician's check-in desk for at least the next 40 years, and I will probably continue to advise these well-meaning dolts that "my name is not 'Sweetie.'"