The Publicly Personal Katrina
Most of the media focus has moved past my little blog now, and I can finally go back to talking “to myself” (so to speak). It’s interesting that through it all I stayed the external point of contact for my Algiers “family” that I started out to be.
For the many thousands who, like me, have deep connections to the Gulf Coast region, the Katrina tragedy is an intensely personal story that has played out in front of a global audience. Events in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have been, and doubtless will continue to be, publicly personal - a bizarre oxymoron.
The experiences of my 'second family' turn out to be typical of the wider picture. Some of them evacuated before the storm, some left after, and several of them stayed. One of the evacuees, who could not initially be located, “found” me through this blog, of all things. He wrote to me late one night, in the midst of the chaos, to “check in”, having absolutely no idea he was writing to someone who had been searching for him for days. Amazing.
These folks have remained my touch-stone to Algiers over the many years since I left Louisiana, and I can’t begin to say how strange it’s been to read about some of them recently in the newspapers. Talking to them, whether face-to-face or by phone, gives a sense of intimacy that is obliterated by the interpretive media.
Take my “baby brother”, for instance. He grew up listening to me sing, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, and later watched (no doubt in horror) as I tried to find my feet as a young adult. I know I’ll always see him through a time warp, the toddling happy boy I called “Charlie Brown”.
That little boy long since grew up, and has now survived one of the toughest trials ever put to someone in his line of work. As his Chief put it in this BBC article,
"In the annals of history, no police department in the history of the world was asked to do what we were asked."
Now that the most severe danger has passed, I’m relieved and proud of him beyond words, even as I shake my head in chagrin (but not in surprise) at his language in a recent article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages. Note: This link contains strong adult language.
His mother, who has been my houseguest since 5 days after the storm, also had a survivor story. It, too, was described in the City Pages. Reading that story, and hearing it first hand, are much different. It took her nearly two days to reach my house in Katy, and to say it was a personal triumph for her understates it badly. She’d never driven by herself any further than the New Orleans airport, had just had surgery, and was bringing all her pets and a cello!
That cello, by the way, has rejoined the granddaughter who plays it, in Alexandria, where she and her family are rebuilding their lives. Like everyone affected by the storm, it's hard for them; new friends, new schools, new ways… They’re part of the larger Katrina story that will be told for years to come - a personal tale that belongs to the world.