Dancing Down Life’s Storms


It seems impossible that four years have passed since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the coastlines of Mississippi and Alabama.  As the secondary tragedy of New Orleans’ levee failures compelled the world’s attention,  the destruction strewn across the Mississippi coastline faded into the background.  In a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial, the South Mississippi SunHerald put it succinctly: 

There is no question that the New Orleans story, like ours, is a compelling, ongoing saga as its brave people seek to reclaim those parts of the city lost to the floods. But it becomes more and more obvious that to national media, New Orleans is THE story – to the extent that if the Mississippi Coast is mentioned at all it is often in an add-on paragraph that mentions “and the Gulf Coast” or “and Mississippi and Alabama.”
Christ Episcopal Church, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Given the nature of things, neglect of Mississippi probably was inevitable.  Given the realities of human nature, it also was inevitable that some Mississippi residents would express bitterness at their relegation to the fringes of the story.   The bitterness surely was understandable, as was the accompanying anger at the unfairness of life, but in the end it was the sadness which touched me – the deep, pervasive sadness of  people who know the living death of surviving a cataclysmic event.  Standing in the rubble of his life, a man from Waveland who was interviewed shortly after the storm captured all the poignancy and pathos of events when he turned to a reporter and said, “You know, we had a storm here, too.”

Traveling to Mississippi  in July of 1970,  I arrived just prior to the first anniversary of Hurricane Camille’s historic landfall.  I’d never been exposed to hurricanes, and even a year after the storm was overcome by what I saw of its aftermath.  Returning to Mississippi  in December of 2006, sixteen months after Katrina wreaked her havoc, I carried with me decades of life,  the experience of surviving Alicia, Allison and Rita, and a new pair of eyes.  While vacant slabs and uprooted trees are nearly interchangeable to someone from the outside,  people are not. Unique and irreplaceable, each has a viewpoint, a collection of memories, a way of telling and retelling an individual story that weaves it into the fabric of larger events.

One afternoon I met a little girl and her mother down at the shore near Waveland/Bay St. Louis.  The girl, perhaps 6 or 7 years old, stood alone at the water’s edge in a green and white checked dress, her hands encircling her head like a ballerina.  Her feet were bare, the curved arch of her right foot barely touching the sand.  “Does she dance?” I asked the woman.  “No,” her mother said, “not any more.  She used to. But since the storm, she just puts out her arms, or holds them up above her head. She says she’s afraid to dance because she doesn’t want the water to come when she isn’t looking.”

That little girl, overcome by the enormity of events she was unable to anticipate, understand or control is a fair representation of any storm survivor.  Standing at the edge of life, facing wave after wave of chaos, they can be frozen by fear or numbed by pain.  Always, there is a sense of being overwhelmed by events.  No matter how realistic human expectations prior to a storm, no matter how diligent the preparations, the consequences are difficult to absorb.  When the first task is finding strength to begin putting one foot in front of the other on the road toward recovery, an invitation to dance seems frivolous or irrelevant at best, and delusional at worst.   

Bay St. Louis Bridge After Katrina

Remembering the survivors of Katrina, Rita, Ivan and Ike, Hugo, Andrew and Camille,  I begin to see the task of writers and artists in those circumstances somewhat differently.  Certainly it is a joy to engage in the pleasure of putting words together, playing with sentences and filling page after page with beautiful, elegant paragraphs.  Of course there is satisfaction in capturing the complexity of a storm in a photographic image, or creating with canvas and brush an interpretation of events. But one of the basic questions any artist must ask and answer is this: Do I work for my own pleasure alone, or do I also bear some responsiblity to the world?  However elegant our words, however beautiful our colors or exquisite our images, if our work fails to awaken life,  to renew a sense of wonder and nurture an ability to respond to the gifts and challenges inherent in the universe, have we met the demands of our calling?

Another way to express this is to affirm the existence of a moral dimension in art.  I don’t intend to suggest “moral”  in the sense of insisting upon a particular world view, encouraging a particular political or religious agenda or hewing to a specific ideological line.  I mean moral in the sense of creating space for freedom, decision, responsiveness and responsibility.  When artists dare remind people they are free to choose the path they take in life, free to determine their relationship to other people and events and free to accept or reject this unutterably beautiful life we have been given, it may be that morality, ethics and aesthetics can begin to form a newer and more creative partnership, just as disaster and hope will sometimes partner in the exquisite dance known as life. 

In Mississippi, as in every hurricane-vulnerable state, August is turning to September, fingers are crossed and life goes on.  In Gulfport, aspiring painters join one another for Canvas and Cocktails, surely one of the more innovative approaches to an art class.  At Ocean Springs’ Mary O’Keefe Cultural Center,  painter Steve Shepherd’s Uncomprehended Coastal Wilderness is on exhibit.  The Flea Market’s back in business in Pass Christian, as is the Market in the Park and Abbey Road art classes.  And in Bay St. Louis?  Perhaps there is a child – a slightly older child – standing again at the shore, arms raised, ready at last to whirl and jeté as the memories fade and the glint of sun off the water washes the shadows away.  

Watching her, hearing the music of the swelling waves, feeling the arc of her raised hands encircling your heart and an inexplicable grace permeating your mind, remember the artists who dare suggest you have a choice.  You can stand, frozen, at the edge of the receeding storm, or you can accept the hand of life and dance.

Pascagoula, Mississippi ~ “Do Not Allow Katrina to Steal Your Joy”


Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, please click below.

19 thoughts on “Dancing Down Life’s Storms

  1. Your timing is spot on again for me, Linda.

    Maybe because of focusing on Ted Kennedy’s life, I’ve been especially keen to the responsibility of giving what I have to those who need it. I’ve been stressed all week, to the point of forgetting to breathe, as I prepare for the onslaught of new students coming to campus. My advising load is too much to bear sometimes – 1,000 students – and I start to drown in the work this time of year, and again in the spring. I go in today, Sunday, and welcome 14 new students and try to get them a decent schedule at this late date. All this to say I get bogged down in the weight of my own little world, but the focus on the Kennedys and all they stood for in helping the invisible and powerless has helped pull me out of that.

    So, I’ve been thinking of ways to steer my advisees toward that kind of perspective, to use their creative powers of writing and filmmaking to help in their communities. The university has an office called Service Learning with a list of hundreds of local opportunities to help, including alternative spring break, when you go to an area that needs extra help for a week. It’s a way I can use the hours in my job to try to influence and make a difference indirectly. I’ll research the programs that already exist, such as a local literacy project that would be perfect for English majors to become involved with.

    The other point you’ve hit on that resonated in a timely way is that I am pretty tired of the news media for how they focus on a few things that will sell, and leave out the fringes.


    Advising 1,000 students? I can’t breathe when I hear something like that. If you weren’t feeling bogged down, I’d worry. As for the invisible and powerless – in a system as large as yours, some of those have to be students. Advising and advocacy surely go hand-in-hand in that situation.

    I don’t know if you read the entire Pulitzer-winning editorial, but I was especially struck by this:

    On the third day after Katrina crushed us, this newspaper appealed to America: “Help us now,” the headline implored. America answered with an outpouring of love and help. That response saved us then.

    Our plea to newspapers and television and radio and Web sites across the land is no less important today: Please, tell our story. Hear the voice of our people and tell it far and wide.

    We are here. Do not forsake us.

    I read that only after I was well into this piece, but it surely helped to shape the final result. Re-reading it in the light of your comments also gave rise to this thought: are we certain the media isn’t focused on the fringes, and leaving out the heart of too many stories?

    As for the rest, I offer words from Jimmy Buffet that helped me in the aftermath of Ike: “If a hurricane doesn’t leave you dead, it will make you strong ~ breathe in, breathe out, move on…


  2. I wish we all knew how to dance.

    I had a whole long rant here and have deleted it because it doesn’t matter. Connecting with others matters. Connecting with others to make a difference matters.

    In the meantime, employing art to make a difference, there’s the rub. It is as important as ever. It’s all about the human thing. It’s local.

    I can hear that man’s voice in Mississippi saying “We had a storm here, too.”


    Never in my life had I heard the tone in that man’s voice, but his surely was the voice of all the hidden ones in the world who must deal with unspeakable desolation. When I remembered him and added his voice here, I confess I shed tears again – the experience of being confronted by a raw reality that cannot be changed is so unbelievably painful.

    The connections do matter. Building bridges matters. Taking the hand of a stranger matters, and being kind to the one you hate matters.
    Daring to dance matters, and speaking for those with no voice matters.

    In the end, it all matters – every bit of it.


  3. Linda,

    We lived on the water when I was a child. I was about four years old when Hazel nearly destroyed our house, and I have total recall of the events. A few years later I was in the house with my mother and sister when Donna blew huge pine trees onto the house. We all thought we were going to die.

    For many years I had difficulty going to sleep at night. I would try to stay awake to listen for the wind. I believed I could save my family if I only stayed awake all night. I can only imagine the traumatized children Katrina left in her wake.

    Your words paint such poignant pictures. I can see that little girl at water’s edge.



    She was a pretty child, and her mother seemed patient and kind, not inclined to push. My hope is that time and love did their healing work.

    Raised in Iowa, we had no hurricanes, but the winter storms could be ferocious. There were two large trees outside my second story bedroom window. A streetlight cast the shadows of their bare branches into the bedroom, and during storms the Fantasia-like waving of those branches was terrifying to me. Like you, I think of the children who were forced to live through far more than waving branches, and barely can think of the terror they experienced. It was difficult enough for adults.

    I just did a little reading about Hazel. Some of the stories remind me of those I’ve heard from folks who went through Carla on the Texas coast.
    It makes me cross my fingers a little tighter for this year ;-)


  4. I was just remembering Katrina this morning –a 4th year anniversary article in the local newspaper jogged my memory. And here is your fine remembrance. Especially loved the image of the stilled child dancer on the shore.

    We dodged the hurricane bullet the 20 years I lived in Lake Jackson — for sure, we had a few close calls (at least from the realm of the forecaster’s probability angle) — Gilbert and Rita come to mind, though there were others whose names I can no longer recall. Rita is the only one that sent us packing. Us and the rest of Houston.

    Last year, while Ike was bearing down on the friends we left behind, we were glued to the Weather Channel. My husband and I sat up and watched Jim Cantore into the wee hours of the morning. And, conincidentally, I was in the midst of reading Ron Rozelle’s fine book on the first recorded Galveston storm. It was eery on both counts.

    So, yes September is coming. And we who have sat in the path of the storm, even though 500 miles and three years away, will continue to keep watch. And pray for mercy. One more time.


    Congratulations on winning “understatement of the year award” for this: Rita is the only one that sent us packing. Us and the rest of Houston. For weeks after I got back to Houston after the storm, two questions were at the top of everyone’s “let’s compare” list ~ “Where did you go?” and “How long did it take you.” For us, it was Nacogdoches, 14 hours. Gracious.

    I wish I’d known you during Ike. I’d have sent along the link that kept me sane – a page that carried live streams from all four Houston tv stations at once. You could mute the ones you didn’t want to listen to, changing from one neighborhood to another, or choosing among forecasters. The one thing I’d added to my evacuation kit was a broadband modem, and between that and Oreos, I was good to go ;-)

    What I find most amazing is my lack of anxiety about this year’s season. Perhaps it’s only that after two evacuations in two years, it’s beginning to seem routine. The one concern I have is that every passing year makes evacuation more difficult for mom. My solution is to adopt a variation on the voting advice from Chicago: evacuate early, and often.


  5. Linda – what another wonderful read. My husband and I were just talking about New Orleans, and how it is 4 years later and some things are still just as they were left.

    I’m not sure why this came to mind, perhaps the little girl spurred it to my mind, but it is what it is.

    A young girl named Kacie, a girl who I knew since she was 4 1/2 years old, passed away a year ago last June. She was 18 years old – JUST passed her high school exit exam. She was sick her whole life, yet she embraced life to the hilt. She had more hospital visits and operations than you and I and 10 other people will experience in our lifetime. I learned a lot from Kacie – lessons that I still hold dear to my heart today. She taught me to appreciate life, to grab ahold of things, to take advantage of everything, to realize how lucky I am to just be who I am, to appreciate good health.

    Why she came to mind is really because of her mother. Kacie’s family adopted a little boy about 4 years before she passed. Kacie didn’t want her mom to adopt a girl, she wanted to remain the only princess in the family. Kacie had 3 brothers, but the adopted little boy made 4. Living with Kacie’s illnesses and hospital visits impacted that entire family, and when she died, they ceased. I’ve often wondered how that affected them all. Doctors visits and hospital stays were a continuous part of that family’s life. It all ended when Kacie passed.

    Kacie and her mom were extremely close – closer than most mother and daughter relationships that I know. My heart ached for Kacie’s mother when Kacie died. I knew a piece of her had to go with her. But – as time has gone on, I’ve learned that Kacie’s mom has moved on too. It’s nice to see her learn to laugh and enjoy life again. I know she thinks of Kacie frequently – everyone who was touched by that young girl does.

    Her mother wrote the most endearing letter to us at the end of Kacie’s Kindergarten year – a year that she thought she would never see. Kacie fought for life diligently, and got 18 years.

    And now her mom is willing to enjoy life again. Maybe that’s what hit me….that fact that Kacie’s mom can once again enjoy life – when she thought that losing her little girl was the end.

    Time – time heals all wounds….that and love ♥


    I think I remember when Kacie died. I do remember you posting about the loss of a student – it surely was her.

    Sometimes I think the greatest gift is being able to embrace life just as it is, without envy or resentments or regrets. Obviously Kacie had that gift, and no doubt shared it with everyone around. I can’t help but think of one of my favorite sayings: “The question is not whether there is life after death. The question is whether there’s life before death.” Kacie had life before death, in abundance. What a wonderful legacy, and how good that her mother’s been able to take hold of it.

    Your curiosity about the impact of Kacie’s illness and hospitalizations on the family dynamic is well-founded. In this country we tend to think that individuals become ill, but especially in long-term situations, the entire family is involved. Whether “the patient” recovers or doesn’t, once the illness is no longer a factor, things can be off-balance for a while as a whole new way of living has to evolve. It does sound like Kacie’s family’s made the transition well – a blessing in itself.

    As you say – time, and love. There’s no better prescription. Thanks for sharing Kacie’s story.


  6. For some reason, Linda, while I have been moved by the Kennedy news this past week, (as sister Ruth wrote about), I have been ravaged like a hurricane by the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping story as it continues to unfold. Thinking about her life and the devastating “hurricane” it has been, has felt almost unbearable to me. Will she ever be able to dance and experience joy? And her 2 girls? God have mercy!


    All three might have had an easier time of it if someone had paid a bit of attention. From what I’ve read, there was ample opportunity to discover her had it not been for bureaucratic bungling, lack of curiosity and just plain… well, lack of common sense. The only thing that made me smile at all was the story I read about the Berkeley officer who figured it out, thinking that Dugard and the two girls, especially, seemed “strange”. If you’re a Berkeley cop and a person seems strange, you know you’re dealing with someone pretty far out in left field.

    I really don’t know much about how they approach such cases, but a friend tells me there’s been a great deal of research into Stockholm syndrome, etc, and that people can re-enter society and live relatively happy lives after terrible experiences. Of course it would take tremendous support, and infinite patience and understanding – but what a blessing to have the opportunity.


  7. This is why I always delay reading your essays until I have time to read–and re-read–them properly. And think.

    The image of the little girl in green gingham who froze rather than danced is imprinted in my mind even though I did not see her. The tone of the man who said “We had a storm here, too,” is ringing in my ears even though I did not hear him speak. Your insistence on the moral imperative in art is both important and correct, I think. It reminds me of the following, with which Bernard Malamud closes the introduction to his collected Stories:

    Literature, since it values man by
    describing him, tends toward morality
    in the same way that Robert Frost’s
    poem is ‘a momentary stay against con-
    fusion.’ Art celebrates life and
    gives us our measure

    The words are his; the emphasis is mine. It is a favorite.

    I was wondering which book to pick up tonight. After this, the decision is easy: Thomas Merton. Absolutely Thomas Merton.

    Thank you.


    I’d not heard the Malamud quotation, but it’s apt. Actually, it’s twice apt. I went looking for the complete Frost quotation and wished I’d had it for the refrigerator piece. When Frost says that a poem is a clarification of life—not necessarily a great clarification, but a momentary stay against confusion, I saw an absolutely clear, utterly bizarre image of myself standing at my open refrigerator, quoting poetry. Do you think it would work? Only momentarily, I suppose. ;-)

    What does work, in writing and in life, is specificity, details, concreteness. Reminding people of a hurricane by providing more video of photographs of empty slabs and downed trees? There have been so many the eyes glaze over. But a little girl in green gingham? A man speaking with the honesty that generally escapes us? I’ve rememebered them for years, and now you may remember them, too.

    Chekov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” The hesitant dancer and the anguished man are the glints of light, and their brothers and sisters are illuminating their worlds.

    It’s always a pleasure – many thanks, again, for the Malmud.


  8. Wonderful, DS.

    Thank you for Buffet, Linda. Yes, that’s remarkable, another message to breathe in and out. And yes yes yes, there are hurting students in my cohort too. Thank you for the reminder.

    When I think about Obama’s choice for Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, going to her patients in her truck when her clinic was trashed in Katrina, and how drained she must have been, I take heart. We have to remember that every client, every customer, every person in the news, is an individual and must be treated that way, and listened to. That is a recurring message of yours.


    There are strong forces in our society that mitigate against honoring people as individuals. “The voters”. “The students”. “The Right”. “The Left”.
    “The homeless”. “The politicians”. The groups exist, but so do the people who make up those groups.

    It takes time and energy – and commitment – to at least try to sort it out a bit, not to mention accepting the fact that no one is one-dimensional.
    It’s so easy for us to categorize someone and then hang our preconceptions about that category on the person. It’s rarely justified.

    I had a conversation yesterday with someone who was in NOLA for a month just after Katrina. She wasn’t on tv or in the papers – if she hadn’t told me she was there I wouldn’t have known it. And yet, like every hidden, anonymous person who was there, she made a difference to the people whose lives she touched, as surely as did Dr. Benjamin. The power of the individual, again…


  9. Oh, Linda, the story of this little girl breaks my heart. Yes, we must serve. We must help. And we must never allow ourselves to be so frightened we cannot dance.


    It is fear that’s at the heart of it, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s specific and identifiable, like a hurricane or the fires currently ravaging California. Sometimes the fears are amorphous, less easy to identify or deal with. The list of those “other” fears is probably as varied as the human race itself ~ fear of being alone, of ridicule, of aging, of the unknown, of rejection, only begin the list.

    I was thinking about this last night when it occurred to me: if someone appears “frozen”, it might not be a bad idea to look for the fear.

    And the ones who dance are a blessing – for their inspiration as well as their grace. I just happen to know someone who danced her way through Paris!


  10. Do I work for my own pleasure alone, or do I also bear some responsiblity to the world?

    That question, in some form or the other stops me in my tracks whenever I sit down to write, edit, or revise. Wonderful post.

    I will never understand the truth of natural disasters. I have always lived in cozy, protected places, where the maximum is thunderstorm and lightning.


    Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s always good to know others are pondering the same questions that intrigue me.

    Weather does shape our perspective of the world. When I moved from an area of the States that had four distinct seasons and wide variation in the length of the days to Liberia, just 7 degrees north of the equator, it felt very, very strange for a very long time. There are two basic seasons there – wet and dry, with stormy transition periods – but the days and nights were very nearly equal all day long. There were no tornadoes or hurricanes, and the predictability of the day’s weather was amazing.

    Sometimes it seemed boring, but it certainly never was threatening. And those rainy days were cozy, for sure!


  11. Yes, I feel there ought to be a ‘moral dimension’ in art, or, in any calling or station in life. Balancing social responsibility and artistic pursuit is crucial… just like there are medical ethics, or even codes regulating scientific research, or filmmaking.

    The artist I think should have a higher awareness even because her/his work touches the heart and soul within us… the essence that makes us human. I appreciate the metaphor of dance, I still remember your previous post using it. Thanks for the reminder here.


    Your inclusion of film-making reminds me of an interesting ethical question that’s arisen in that community recently. Casting director Daryl Eisenberg was tweeting during auditions, including specific references to performers (although not by name) and live comments, both good and bad, after they had auditioned. You can find a link with more information and a brief Q&A with Eisenberg here.

    I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about Twitter and Facebook recently, and I think, in the end, Eisenberg’s comments about the practice of tweeting are reasoned. On the other hand, the incident makes clear that as technologies change and our ways of communicating with one another take on new forms, assumptions about the nature of the artistic process itself will increasingly be questioned. Another way to say it is that, in the arts as in life, how we do something may be as important as what we do.

    Thanks for the nudge in a new direction!


    EDIT: Amazing that you remembered the story of the little girl. I forgot that I’d written about her. I just went searching and re-read my own post. Thanks for pointing me to it ;-)

  12. Lovely, and of course I read it through the prism of what you went through. I think extreme forces of nature are like migraines: until you’ve experienced one, you can sympathize but can’t even imagine how painful it can be or really understand what it’s like to go through it.

    I remember Camille. Boy, do I remember Camille.


    My first encounter with folks who’d lived through “a big one” involved Carla. Years and years after that storm, it might as well have been yesterday.
    The stories were told and retold, with a level of detail that was amazing. Clearly, the experience of living through the actual storm is about as high on the trauma scale as you can get. Evacuating is a stressful hassle and dealing with the aftermath is a horrible slog, but when the next one comes, I’ll still be out of here.

    I’ve never experienced migraine, but from what I’ve been told, it’s a perfect analogy.


  13. Through the storms of life I have suffered, and there have been many, I find the only way to endure is to dance. Even if at first I’m only taking one step, or beginning to arch my foot; the important thing is the piece in your heart that wills you to dare, to step out in hope rather than retreat in despair.


    Indeed. And I choose to believe that piece always exists, no matter how damaged or hidden. Following its impulses isn’t always easy – it can be the hardest thing in the world – but it’s always possible.

    I suspect you believe that, too. Someone who’s taught as many years as you have while remaining commited and joyful would have to.


  14. I just started a new semester with all that entails. Even though this is a retirement career, part time, it’s busy and crowded, so I just now checked in.

    Your wonderful essay brings so much to mind – mom’s refusal to sing again after my brother Bob’s death, the sails and the trips and the battening down on Gemini. Going through Ike inland. The road trip that took us to Pass Christianne and Bay St. Louis last year. Standing on a dock talking to an old sailor still fixing the holes in in his 26′ coastal cruiser, in what’s left of the public marina. Eating lunch at the Marina in the only place rebuilt on the coast in Pass Christianne. Crossing to Bay St. Louis, seeing the reconstruction. Buying the book of essays written by the children of the town. Three years after Katrina it was still heartbreaking.

    Several events have captured the national news scenes the past weeks, How many stories have we missed?


    It’s a truism to say there are as many stories as there are people in the world, but it’s a fact that some stories deserving of a wider telling get lost beneath obsessive retelling of tiresome stories. Often, media focus creates “big stories”. Sometimes the stories have intrinsic worth – interest or import – and sometimes they don’t. That’s always been part of NPR’s appeal to me – their willingness to tell stories that aren’t on the network/cable radar. It’s one of the satisfactions of blogging for me as well – the ability to find and tell some “other” stories, and use a few more words to do it.

    I’ll never forget that drive from Tyler to Nacogdoches the morning after Ike. Five miles outside of Tyler, it was clear how much of a “near miss” we’d experienced in our little evacuation hidey-hole. Even more impressive was the fact that the roads were clear, only 24 hours after the storm. It wasn’t the government who’d shown up to do it, it was people with chainsaws and front loaders who knew if anyone was going to dance, they’d better clear the dancefloor.


  15. Hi Linda,

    It’s me, Mary from Pasadena (old WU blogger).

    I just wanted you to know I still go back to WU to read your entries. I always seem to identify with what you’re saying =). Now I can simply bookmark this page and Voila!, here I am!

    Hope everything is well with you. Take care, and keep in touch,


    Hi, Mary,

    I happened across you over at 03’s site a couple of weeks ago – first time I’d been over there, and I was surprised at the number of familiar names (or perhaps not). Isn’t it nice that we haven’t had any real scares yet this year! (Can you hear me knocking on the wood?)

    Thanks so much for stopping by – it’s a pleasure to hear from you.


  16. ShoreA – come on over to my place and pick up your award. Yes, it’s silly in a way. It is also quite sincere!


    I can’t wait to see what it is! Here I come….


  17. I have lived the majority of my 67 years in hurricane-prone areas: Cape Cod, southeast Florida and New Orleans. I LOVED New Orleans, living there for 10 years. (Coincidently, I grew up in Orleans, Mass.) I left long before Katrina. I despaired at the destruction I saw on television. I will never return. It would break my heart. It will never be the same. It will only be a disneyfied version of the city I knew and loved.

    It’s unfortunate that the tragedy of New Orleans eclipsed the suffering of the rest of the area devastated by Katrina. People really don’t understand what an immense area was impacted. I offer this illustration. If you got into your car at the western edge of the destruction of Katrina and drove eastwards on Interstate 10 at 70 mph it would take you over FIVE HOURS to reach the eastern edge.


    I’ve never heard the swath of destruction explained in just that way. It certainly helps to put it in terms people can understand. The questions about returning and rebuilding always are difficult, too. As you say, life there never will be the same. On the other hand, time changes life as surely as any natural disaster. As I’ve always said, “You can go home again. You just may not recognize it.”

    One of the most surreal experiences of my life came the night of our evacuation for Rita. We arrived at the La Quinta in Nacogdoches at 4 a.m., after making a three hour trip in fourteen. We were greeted at the door by a fellow with coffe, juice and a question: “Are you tribe Katrina or tribe Rita?” It was the running joke among the survivors holed up there. One night, there even was an impromptu volleyball game between teams Rita and Katrina. The storms defined every aspect of many peoples’ lives for far too long. This year’s relative peace is a blessing, but there are a lot of people nervously counting down the days.

    Again, many thanks for stopping by.


  18. Just two comments.

    First , thank you for your article in the Sun Herald.

    Second, two days after Katrina while driving around and looking at the destruction, my almost three year old granddaughter said “If Katrina had a face , it would be an ugly one.” My heart is broken everytime I think of all the history we have lost, and everytime I watch anything about the storm on TV, because of course, it did not even affect anyone but New Orleans. My heart is also full when I see the recovery that we are making on a daily basis. I am so proud to be a South Mississippian.


    Your pride is justified. Recovery is a long, slow process, counted in years rather than months. It depends on people whose commitments to one another and to their communities are rooted in a shared history, or at least in a firm conviction that people’s needs matter. From what I’ve read, been told and seen with my own eyes, your people are as strong and resiliant as any on the Gulf Coast, and as capable as any of bringing about a full recovery.

    When tropical storm Allison destroyed much of Houston with her flood waters, I got my first taste of what it means to start over after such an event. One of the moments still fresh in my mind is the knock on the door that came while I was pulling up soggy, already-moldy carpeting. It was a church youth group from an unaffected area of town. They had sack lunches – sandwiches, apples and cookies – and bottled water. They might as well have been angels. When it was all over, when the trash was gone and the electricity was back on and the rebuilding had started, I swore I would never forget to help others in the same situation.

    In a way, my writing about “your” storm is just another way of passing out some sandwiches, apples and cookies.

    Thanks so much for your kind words, and give your granddaughter an extra hug.


  19. I like your, “You can go home again. You just may not recognize it.”

    But someone might recognize YOU.

    In the summer of 1987 I was running and restoring a 47′ Grebe (fine boats, the Trumpys of the Great Lakes). The owner of the boat owned the Provincetown Inn and I was spending my first summer on Cape Cod in over 20 years. (I grew up in Orleans, where the forearm of the Cape turns northwards, and which is nowhere near as much fun as New Orleans where I lived for 10.)

    Anyway, one evening I went to see a movie in Wellfleet, the closest theater in the area and about half way between Orleans and P-Town. When I was ordering my popcorn the concession attendant looked at me and said, “You’re a PHILBRICK, aren’t ya?!?”

    Could have knocked me down with a tack rag.


    You know the cruising world’s nothing but a floating small town! Just when you’re wondering “Whatever happened to those nice folks we knew in Barbados”, you get an email from a friend in San Diego who says, “We just met the nicest people who got tired of Barbados….”

    One of the funniest things I heard from people when I was sailing and cruising was, “Doesn’t it get lonely out there?” Well, if you’re rowing the Pacific like Roz Savage or playing Francis Chichester, I suppose it could. But today, for most folks – especially w/email and satphones? It’s pretty easy to stay in touch.

    Just a note: I stepped on board a boat for the first time in my life on August 27, 1927. It was all downhill from there ;-)


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