Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving in New Orleans 11/22/2005

Subject: Thanksgiving in New Orleans Date: 11/22 4:12 PM

Hi guys,
I know it's been a while since I sent out an email. My first problem was that AOL thought I was a spammer, evidently forgetting that there's a delete button on every keyboard, and absence was my second problem. I went to New Mexico for a week to work the Whole Expo and do a workshop.

I am totally humbled by what has gone on in my life since "The Storm" as it's called here. As most of you know, I am known to have a big mouth, some have said I alternate between the profane and the profound. What I know is that I can be both brazen and very, very shy. If I know you well, the brazen part comes out spontaneously, if I don't, or if I have to teach a class or speak in public, the shy part takes over and I appear to be brazen by sheer force of will. Inside I'm usually in total panic mode. It has always been worth it to pony up because the people I've ponied up for are so spectacular. I'm not going to use names. Most have asked me not to.

A dear friend Fed Ex's money to us, apologizing that it's not more, but that it's what would have been sent to the Red Cross. She and her husband decided to send it to us instead, knowing that David's job, while allowing us to hold our own, is not what it was prior to Katrina's wrath. We were clearly informed that it was NOT a loan.

Just a day before I left for New Mexico, some very dear friends sent us what they called a "care package." It was like Christmas! We just sat there with tears in our eyes as we went through the treasures---a box filled with various wonderful wines, rums, vodka and incongruously, a gigantic box of bandages---probably figured we'd need them if we drank all that! A second box was filled with luscious treats and vitamins, shampoos and body lotions (David laughed at how thrilled I was by that, but hey, it's a girl thing!). Also inside the box a book on home remedies (one which we had owned and is no doubt paper pulp in storage right now, already miraculously replaced by these angels), some fabulous and varietal CD's, and a DVD called The Corporation that you absolutely should track down and see. They also sent cash. So incredibly sweet and it came just in time for me to rent the car I was going to need in New Mexico and cover some other expenses. Synchronistic perfection and we were so grateful for it.

Once I arrived in New Mexico, miracles kept coming. I stayed with friends whom I have known for 24 years, and just seeing their faces was a gift. Okay, so I had to learn to like a very perverse thieving dog, and I did like him in the end. Their generousity was over the top.

Then came the workshop and the Expo. My former students came out of the wood work to support me. One handed me a little purple gauze bag saying, "This is for you" and then she ran out the door. I opened it and thought there was a note in it that turned out to be a check. Not a check for any service rendered, just her generousity. I was stunned and ran out to grab her to return it to her. She refused saying that she knew if we didn't need it we'd make sure it got to someone who did. One student was collecting the "door money" for me at the workshop. When she handed it to me, it looked like more than should have been there. It was. She just smiled when I started to say NO, and said, "I don't know who put in extra. Bec, we all KNOW how you are with this kind of thing." This happened over and over. They all seemed to just happen not to have change, or drop an extra ten on the table at the Expo. It was truly overwhelming. Person to person generousity.

The producer of the Expo gave me my booth there free, although we'd worked out an agreement ahead of time that I would pay her off in little bits. An amazing gift, and so incredibly kind. This news was delivered to me with no fanfare, just a gift given from her heart.

Great friends with whom lunch had always been a joy, opened their homes and their cookbooks and filled me with great food, wonderful conversation, and the love and joy of friendship that is unconditional. "Sure we think you're nuts, but we love you anyway." Another gift.

It's pretty easy for most of us to give, not so easy to be on the receiving end. It's a hard thing to learn, the whole yin yang balance of giving and receiving. We've all been raised to be independent, to take care of ourselves, and then suddenly an entire city finds itself in a position of needing help. Oooooooh, that's a hard thing to admit, particularly on a personal level. I learned an important lesson since the storm. Well, many lessons actually. One of the biggest lessons I've learned is how to say "Thank you". Of course I've always known how to do that, but there's always been a tinge of something akin to guilt. Comes from being raised with the old standard of never handing back a plate empty if it came to you with something on it. You know. You learned it too. If the neighbor bakes cookies, brings you some on a plate, you damn well better make some cupcakes to put on it before you return it. We weren't really taught a balance. We're good givers, and terrible receivers.

What I learned is that everyone who gave us a gift, no matter what the gift was, WANTED to do it as much as David and I wanted to help when we came back. Every person or organization that packed up cookies and canned goods did that from their hearts. Every person who helped distribute it did it from their hearts. So many came from all over the country to help, because it was important to them. And all that's needed is to say THANK YOU with grace, not guilt. Besides, we can't possibly refill all those neighbors' plates in our lifetime. It's a good thing to get past a weird kind of pride and just say thank you.

This Thanksgiving we have so much to be thankful for. Friends who have supported us emotionally with everything from emails to food. They supported us with their time listening to us and money falling from heaven just when we most needed it. We've made some wonderful new friends since the storm, people we wouldn't have known had Katrina not come through here. People who are also living this surreal existence and understand if we've got tears in our eyes 15 minutes from now, because they will have them too 15 minutes after that. Every single one of those people is precious, as anything that survived this storm is made more precious by virtue of its survival.

We went to storage today. Couldn't get in to really deal with it. The frustration level is horrible because we just want to get what we can salvage out of there and move forward. We already know how bad it is. We took pictures with the flash on the camera when we were allowed in to do a recon. Saw better in the pictures than in real life with a flashlight how bad it's gonna be. No power there yet. Hydraulic fluid all over the floor. Slippery blackness with a strange unforgettable smell of histories and lives turned into debris in less than 24 hours. We'll have to wait to see how much is salvagable. The waiting is horrible. But it's not our house.

We called the storage guy and were in hopes that he would respond before we crossed the River again. So we headed through City Park to Lakeview. We saw what the full force of the water did as it breached the 17th Street Canal levee. Some houses were literally only feet from the levee. Some moved off their foundations, sliding into the house next to them, stopped only by a tree or a boat or a truck or the other house. The devastation is beyond description and pictures simply don't do it justice. (I'll have pics of our storage and Lakeview out to you tonight.) And again, the smell. The water is still leeching through the sandbags and the huge iron sheets they've put in place to keep the canal from breaching again. The hole in that levee looks about 75 yards long. Signs on houses, "two dead cats", "dog found DOA in kitchen". Sign on a tree, "Found, beautiful little kitten found alive. Please call this number." And that's just the animals. Piles of boats in marinas. Piles of boats is a strange thing to say, but that's what it looks like. Yes, that's what it looks like still, three months after the storm.

We drove all over the city. Sixty percent of the city still has no power, which is a minor inconvenience if your house isn't even standing anymore. The population of New Orleans at night is now about 60,000, down from nearly 500,000 prior to the storm. A friend who lives about three blocks from us said he is one of two or three people on his block at night. We're not quite sure how to answer people who ask us if New Orleans is okay now. It would take lots of time to explain and saying "It's doing okay"---which we do say a lot of the time just to not go into it, does a huge disservice to the city that we love. But we simply don't know what else to say sometimes.

We've only lived here a year. We were lucky to have had a year here prior to the storm. We can see the before and after pictures in our heads. We hear the silence in the streets, instead of the loud music goading drunken tourists to buy giant green feathered hats which always made us smile. The sound of a child's voice is musical, so many have left as most schools aren't open. Most of the people who lost their homes had lived here for generations. We cannot imagine living anywhere else and we've been here such a short time. How hard it must be for those people who are displaced.

This year Thanksgiving will mean so much more to us than ever before. We are so grateful to be here because, as my sister said the other day, our hearts are here. We are eternally grateful to all of you. Without your help and support we don't know how anyone could get through this.

We are in hopes that you won't forget the historic catastrophe called Katrina that knocked New Orleans to her knees. And please don't forget all those who still need our help. Don't let your legislators forget either. Write them. Remind them.

Please know that our gratitude can't be expressed. And know that on Thanksgiving, every single one of you will be in our hearts.

Bec and David

NOTES: Thanksgiving is here again. We still hope that you will not forget. There are still problems here of monumental proportions, not the least of which are the levees, which the Army Corps has decided will only be armored in "certain spots."

We are still grateful to all of the people who helped us. I don't know what we would have done without them. The feelings of that time will be with us every Thanksgiving for the rest of our lives.