We’re going to a Super Bowl party tonight and we’re cheering for the Saints! Not because we’re die-hard fans, but because 1) I grew up in Texas and we cheered for the Cowboys, the Houston Oilers (not that wimpy team, the “Texans”) and the Saints in that order, and b) I just love me a feel-good story where the underdogs win. When I think of the devastation, the death, and the atrocities that the Superdome witnessed in August 2005, I want the City of New Orleans to celebrate life and a feeling of victory.
We almost lived in New Orleans. In August of 2003, James interviewed at Tulane. The children were 1 and 2 and little ones of that age do not stay up late, not when they’re fighting autism, and not when we were desperately trying to keep the same schedule for them- even on the road. We put them down at 7:00pm and watched television quietly. The morning was our “tourist” time, and let me tell you, Bourbon Street at 8:00 am is not a pretty sight. Nor a sweet-smelling experience as shopkeepers were washing down the sidewalks. There is no jazz on Bourbon Street at 8:00am; jazz is a late night, a few-drinks-in-you-and-everything-is-loose experience. But there are beignets, with their warm, sweet, yeasty smell, at Cafe du Monde at 8:30 am where the “real” people of New Orleans gather to prepare their city for the onslaught of tourists. There is a soft, rustling sound in the air as the pigeons gather, undisturbed for the moment, at Jackson Square. The early morning breeze coming off of the Mississippi River brings the sound of river boats starting their engines and cleaning their decks. And the St. Charles street car was running, full of people hurrying to work- with newspapers and coffee cups in hand as the Spanish moss gleamed in the early morning light above their heads.
We rode the street car down to Tulane with James, and when he went to his interview, the children and I played in the gardens across the street. Vast trees looked down on us with a watery sunshine and the smell of moss, dankness and mystery settled into the day. The children, Ray toddling along, trying to outrace his sister, and Elizabeth chasing pigeons and jumping, jumping, jumping on the expanse of grass are among my very vivid memories of New Orleans. We ate muffalettas for lunch, walked for hours and hours and ended the day back at the hotel. Ray ate with a spoon for the very first time, grabbing the handle and digging into his jambalaya. Ray liked the food- this was to be a major factor in our decision-making process! For a moment, we envisioned ourselves living in this place- Ray eating cajun food, zydeco providing the backdrop music, and the rollicking atmosphere of Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez “Let the Good Times Roll” that characterized New Orleans. We dreamed of lazy, steamy days, and rhythmic nights. James was offered the job, but unfortunately, it did not pay well, and there was no job for me, so we stayed in Florida another year.
That next year was the year of diagnosis and therapy for Elizabeth, testing for Ray, and days and months of worry, financial pain, and my resignation from my tenure-track job to deal with the crisis. New Orleans became a vague memory.
Like so many other people, when we watched the hurricane hit New Orleans, we were grateful we weren’t there, and horrified at the damage and the terrible, terrible tragedies- both large and small, institutional and individual. Our challenges seemed rather small compared to what so many others were going through. And when we watched the people of Tulane work together to bring back their university, we were sad we weren’t part of the re-building effort. Their deep belief of the work that they were doing was something that we wanted to share.
We’ve not been back to New Orleans since that August, 2003. The gardens are gone now-lost to the hurricane. And although the pigeons still flock to Jackson Square and the tourists to Bourbon Street, and the Superdome is filled with cheers now, not screams, New Orleans needs the rollicking feeling of “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez”, not the manufactured kind for the visitors, but the feeling of lightness and mystery that is such an essential part of the city.
When calamity hits, it takes a very long time to recover- a very long time before you can believe again in the goodness of luck. While bedrock qualities like faith and commitment and hard work get you through the dark times, it takes an extraordinary length of time for the exuberance- and the pureness of joy- to come back. We’ve weathered one storm of events and are settling into a quieter time in our lives- a more reflective time where we can ponder the great changes that have happened. I flinch and panic at the thought of future ones- I worry about what will happen if… worries and concerns that I can’t even put into words for fear that they’ll come true. Teenage years have so many storms ahead and I worry about our ability to weather them. But I can appreciate the small moments now and start to believe again.
We all need a feeling of Letting the Good Times Roll after a hurricane in our lives. And so tonight, we cheer on the Saints- for a city reborn, for a family reborn. And even if they lose, they, and us, got to dance in the Big Dance.
UPDATE: And they WON! What I loved was the “Go for it” attitude- despite the setbacks…
4th and inches- Go for it! No touchdown… sigh
Off-sides kick- Go for it! Yippee- recovery!
2 point conversion? Go for it! Win locked up!
Made me remember that sometimes you just play the game and don’t out-think yourself. Take a chance, try something. Celebrate when things go well and don’t let the defeats stop you from trying again. I can learn a lot from the Saints…