The new normal

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It’s hard to believe how much things have changed in the past week. Ten days ago, I was oblivious to the possibility that a hurricane was headed toward New Orleans. A week ago, I thought that, while there was damage, we’d come through relatively okay and that my parents would be back home within a couple of days. They’d be faced with the daunting task of putting order to the things tossed about by the wind and water, but life as they’ve known it was relatively intact. It was about this time a week ago that preliminary reports started showing up in the newscasts – that the levee had been breached. It’s startling to realize that it was just a week ago our lives were turned upside down.

But I recognize that my family is amazingly lucky. My parents, who in all their years in New Orleans (40+ for my mom, 30+ for my dad) have never evacuated, left with Naysan last Saturday night, in anticipation of the mandatory evacuation. Traffic was light and they reached their destination of Baker (outside of Baton Rouge) within a couple of hours. The friend they’re staying with has the space for them to stay until they can return to New Orleans. My father’s company has a branch nearby, so he’s been able to return to work. My mother will be resuming classes at LSU this week – instead of connecting with her teachers via video conference, as she’d been doing in New Orleans, she’ll be in the classroom with them. Naysan will fly back to Minnesota on Wednesday for his senior year of college, having rerouted his ticket. I just hope we’ll see him again, considering how this three week visit of his turned out. In the big scheme of Katrina’s influence, my family’s life is relatively normal – they’ve been able to resume their regular activities, even if in modified fashion.

All of my extended family who lived in the area have been accounted for. One uncle and his family stayed behind, and there were a few days when worry was high, especially given that they lived in an area that is low-lying and was swamp as recently as 30 or so years ago. But they waded and swam the 8+ miles to UNO, where they spent a few days before being airlifted to San Antonio. My mother’s other siblings in New Orleans evacuated to Hattiesburg, where they did without electricity for a while. My parents tried to visit them earlier this weekend, but were stymied by the lack of gas in the Baton Rouge area. While it’s horrible to be in a situation where you need to account for your family members, it’s wonderful to be able to do so successfully. I recognize that not everyone is so lucky.

There are hours when I’m relatively okay with all that’s going on. There are others when I’m sobbing, at the loss of life, at the conditions people have had to endure, at the lack of assistance, at the perceived lack of caring, at the likely destruction of many childhood mementos and photographs, at the state of my beloved New Orleans. I feel like a family member has died. And I guess that is true, since we’re all related.

I am heartened by the news I receive from people who indicate that they plan to return, to rebuild. But my heart also crumbles a little knowing that there are just as many people who will not return. I don’t blame them – they’re in a position where they have to reestablish lives elsewhere and can’t just pick up again in a few months, only to return to what is likely nothing. This three month hiatus away from New Orleans will turn into a lifetime away for many.

It does seem that there is good coming out of this – the world is rallying together to help. Even those countries considered “foe” are offering assistance. And maybe, just maybe, some of the dialogue that has already started will lead to the healing of some of the wounds caused by centuries of racism. Hopefully the new normal of six months from now will be better than the new normal of today, and even better than the normal of ten days ago.

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