Dear New Orleans,
This is going to seem strange, but today I am grateful for the hurricanes that taught me what recovery means, what rebirth can create, and what resilience truly embodies. No city has overcome the obstacles that you have conquered, and none can say that they have more grit or determination than those that call you home.
You became my home in a way that shouldn’t have been so easy. The idea of drifting in the slow lane of life had a magical appeal that wouldn’t have been acceptable in any other location.
You filled me with the most wonderful food a person can imagine. Yet it wasn’t just about the actual meals making my belly warm, it was the community and the love that went into every pot. The idea of gaining weight was an easy concept to embrace if it meant I could have another serving of Ms. Linda’s Ya-Ka-Mein.
You enticed me with drinks, and not just the shitty kind college bars serve, but those of sophistication and class with a respect for the power and nuisance contained within every spirit.
You filled my ears with Jazz and Zydeco, forcing me to recognize that some of the sweetest sounds come from the least obvious of places. Although headliners regularly swing through town, the real soundtrack of the city is found in the high school marching bands between floats and the brass bands playing in every bar.
You taught me that the quality of a festival wasn’t implicitly based on its size, but the magical combination of food, drink, music, and love. What would Jazz Fest be without Crawfish Bread?
You made my neck sore, my voice disappear, and my appreciation for comfortable shoes grow every Mardi Gras. It wasn’t about the beads or the booze; it was about the celebration and comradery. The realization that Mardi Gras stood for more than just parades, it was proof positive that you were coming back, better than ever.
You’re not perfect though.
You have some of the most storied first responders in the nation, yet your police force so understaffed that it can take hours to get to a call, your fire department is in never-ending war with the mayor over their pensions and your emergency medical services are running at full speed 24/7.
You provide the best array of festivals in the nation each spring, but you flood every time it rains. And losing power isn’t a once-a-year event, but a monthly occurrence.
You respect and celebrate death as much as you do life, yet the very streets that second lines roll down are in such disrepair that the normal lifetime of vehicles doesn’t apply within your boundaries.
You built a shiny new hospital to replace Charity, but how many families were forced out of their homes in the process?
You won the Super Bowl, in an epic representation of your tenacity and belief in the support of the Who Dat Nation, yet there is an entire village of homeless sleeping in its shadows.
You celebrate everything, lighting the sky with fireworks any chance you get. But the sounds of gunshots are an all too common occurrence, resulting in a murder rate that’s growing exponentially.
To love you and to hate you at the same time is a completely reasonable reaction. You bring out the best and the worst all in the same brush stroke.
You are a city full of life, vibrant with the realization that you survived. You know what it means to lose everything, and so the things that you hold to a higher value aren’t necessarily translatable to outsiders.
You “keep on keeping on” in the most vital sense of the phrase. You force the world crave you, and be excited any time they get the chance to visit, knowing that the New Orleans they are antsy to see, is only a side-show compared to the real you.
You are the greatest show on earth, and yet there is no puppeteer.
You are a city of survivors, entrepreneurs, and do-gooders. Who came to you because they knew they had something to offer. None of them could have imagined how much you would offer in return.
You showed the world that hurricanes can pack a punch, but more importantly you showed the world how well a city can rise from the ashes of what many thought was its final fight.
So today, you are the reason I am thankful for hurricanes.
Catherine R. Counts
This letter was originally written as part of the Love, Write, Light campaign for Evacuteer.