It never seems to amaze me how this world works. We are individually in “control” of our own little personal worlds—to some extent—while the expanded real world juts and jitters along at its own pace with little or no concern for what these personal worlds intend to be. It’s almost like we individually form our own “goddoms” from which we can meld and form our own little realities from the dust of the ground about us with full control of its outcome, a genesis of sorts until such time when life itself intercedes rendering our efforts impudent at best. And, at this point of experience, our perception of what goes on about us is controlled not so much by what is happening to us as much as it is how we choose to process the information we are receiving. It’s a case of “the glass half empty/half full” concept and just like our insistence on focusing rather exclusively from within our myopic eyes—after all we were created/evolved (you are free to choose that orientation also), any choice of reality acceptance depends solely on your will; what happens happens and there is always very little you can do to change that fact. But the more important thing is how you react to the stimuli which dictates how the reality will affect you.
No matter your spiritual orientation, the most final reality is death if we go no further than the physical realm we can see, touch, taste, smell and feel. We return again to the matter of choice as to what extension beyond this mortal coil one chooses to grasp. That’s a matter of your personal world, but for this discussion let’s just assume it’s something better than the pain and anguish we must all deal with daily. And then again, the pain and anguish part—although it does exist in truth—most often can be redirected according to your choices. It’s pretty much all relative also because the pain of being called ugly as a child is just as intense as losing a parent at the age of 85 years old although neither incident could be considered life threatening to your own self; the pain real or imagined is felt. I don’t speak metaphysically, but we all can affect any perception of pain, loss or despair to some degree by the refocusing of our thoughts whether it is through philosophy or religion, again your choice. And sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised by virtually no interaction, as previously alluded to, and you can also attribute that to fate or other forces, your choice again.
To a certain extent, we all tend to be self-absorbed by our own condition. It’s a simple fact that if you feel good one day you expect the entire world to be of the same mind. The reverse is also true. But some of us insist on overriding the natural order by deliberately trying to redirect our condition into the inverse. It’s something like the old pessimist/optimist metaphor of the glass imposed upon by some willful force within us—whatever its origin, again you decide—in which a choice of how we will ultimately feel on that day. And on those miraculous days, outside forces can and will permeate whatever will you may have prepared for given times in your life rendering any “will” as only a temporary thought as reality assaults you.
On the negative side, our present New Orleans condition surrounding the events perpetrated by Hurricane Katrina can and forever will affect millions of people’s emotions predominantly negatively simply because of the loss of life or property. That’s an inevitable reality because it did happen, it was out of everyone’s control and there is little we can do short of clicking our ruby heels together three times and chanting “There’s no place like New Orleans.” That would be a temporary fantasy with no basis for any substance. And it serves no purpose but for avoidance and momentary relief from the tribulations encountered by an entire city. Some people lost others in life or in proximity and some of those instances will never be restored to pre-August 28th standards. Others lost all possessions and those can be restored eventually with the same amount of work it took to acquire them in the first place whether you consider wrestling with FEMA or your insurance company the task or merely putting in the needed elbow grease to re-earn the privilege of owning similar items. Just as intensely dismaying is whether the replacement cost for any or all of those items will be paid in full even though you just spent the last forty years of your life earning the premium and then paying it to the company who promised that you would always be in good hands in the time of need (no intention of singling out one insurance provider but the phrase is applicable to almost all insurers’ advertisements). The stark reality is they are in this for the money not because they wanted to help you. That’s not an evil thing, but you chose to believe it all these years. On the other hand, the flip side is the padders who always insist the “rich” insurance company owes them more than they really deserve, so why not file claim for those things you never did have? Do unto others before they do it unto you. Now that’s a civilized thought, huh? Wouldn’t either of these activities be elevated above looting? If that’s your will, again your choice.
You’ve got to drill down to intimate levels to get the real picture of life in New Orleans these days. The Quarter is the only thing happening in the Crescent City these days. And the reputation of “Party Town” has not been forsaken within all the tragedy and loss, but that’s not a bad thing unless you’re a Swaggert-type, again your choice. But if that’s your thing, at least somebody can be having fun and that’s what this city needs. We’ve been begging and grieving for way too long now and whatever relief—within reason of course—should be expected. Sure, we need to eventually get back to piecing all the parts back together during the daylight hours. But it does lift everyone’s spirits just to drive by and see something occurring for a change. Everyone’s on edge 20 hours a day right now wondering if life will recreate itself and what it will be like when it does. And since the functional area of the city is now relegated to the original settlement district of about the early 1700’s, it’s refreshing to think that our re-growth will have to be incremental because then maybe we can fix those problems that retarded the city just a short few weeks ago. Politicians don’t like to hear that; they would rather have everyone back tomorrow but very few had ruby slippers when they left and even fewer now. But those of us who have returned just want it to work be it in our own little worlds and neighborhoods.
Now that brings me to a crucial point in this discussion. Some interesting factors have emerged in this brave new world of Southeastern Louisiana, ones that I have never considered in my earlier diaspora while I had time to contemplate on what life and location would dictate if I were to ever return to the city of my birth. I knew I would, but I can never know for certain if conditions could exist or if I would be forced by circumstance to find another world to live in. Life is nowhere near what it was nor will it be for quite some time, but that’s not really a bad thing as I will explain in a moment. But life in New Orleans and the region does offer surprises, again your choice.
On a sad note, today I attended the joint funeral services for a good friend James’ parents. The couple—in their 80’s—had survived all hurricanes of the last century and were intent in waiting this one out also in their home just a mile from Lake Pontchartrain and just a couple of blocks from the London Avenue Canal. James, himself, worked during the school year as an educator for mentally handicapped children in St. Bernard Parish, as a gardener for selected clients after school and on weekends—more ironically as you will see—as a security guard nights and was a member of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Land and Sea Emergency Rescue (LASER) Division as a fully commissioned auxiliary police officer. I am convinced James does not sleep! And although I can only describe him to others as “Forrest Gump” because of his rather simple three word sentences, his very quiet demeanor and his down-to-earth approach to life, his exhaustive schedule notwithstanding, his in-depth knowledge of almost anything you want to talk to him about (except computers!) is astounding if you insist on judging books by their covers.
I did not know either parent well although his mom accompanied him occasionally when he cut the grass at my place. She would sit in the door of his truck with her old straw sunbonnet every now and then making her way to the garden to admire a day lily or azalea and maybe pluck a weed from the flower bed. She hardly ever said more than three words when I asked her how she was that day but I always remember her smiling which was an ample substitute for any missing words she so eloquently withheld. I could tell very easily whose mother she was. And one of dad’s friends from church who delivered a heartfelt eulogy made the chapel attendees laugh out loud as he discussed dad’s perpetual building projects which lasted decades and how he would willingly play dumb to building codes to save an extra nail here and there. I could tell very easily whose dad he was. We are who we are as a testament. It was designed to work that way.
James urged his parents to evacuate, but never before in the innermost areas of the city had such floods occurred. They made their choice. It wasn’t easy for a LASER deputy to accept the inevitability of their choice a week later when he and some of his fellow deputies were finally able to boat over six miles to their neighborhood before any waters subsided. In today’s unfortunate lexicon inspired by a hurricane named Katrina, they were classified as “floaters” and that term is not one ever wants to hear about anyone no less for both of your parents simultaneously.
I could hear the pain in James’ voice a few short weeks ago when he called to ask me to attend the funeral once they released the bodies. I was still hundreds of miles away in my refuge and there are no words one could ever find to make the news of his discovery easier to bear. Add to that an agonizing four weeks of holding in a statewide morgue with other victims of nature and you might only begin to taste the foul circumstance. It took authorities over a month to release them to their son. And I saw the same anguish in his face yesterday, the look that “I did what I thought was best and look what happened.” But I also saw a “Gumpish” response to all the pain one feels during such a horrendous experience, situations I have faced at separate moments in history but never all in one day. His response gave me hope.
I could have sworn I heard him say something about “chocolates” after the service outside in the parking lot, but a moment later I began to understand what he was saying. After all, he was the child of his mother and father, a man of few words like his mom and a little tight in the billfold like his dad but nonetheless “good people” as they say.
“Ticked off the funeral director,” he gumpishly groaned with a faint smile.
I looked at him for a moment trying to get a feel for his state of mind after this harrowing experience. I almost felt like I was waiting for a punch line. I looked at him puzzled.
“Ordered their coffins online. Saved $900,” he explained.
Mom and dad had raised him to be just like them to their credit. All is as well as can be expected. His choice this time.