a small sign of hope - a mud-stained and tattered American flag stands in a pile of debris left by Hurricane Katrina in Chalmette, Louisiana

The Sound and Fury of the Monster as Its Arms Stretched Toward Us

“Recipes in old places spared destruction are now made by new hands and do not taste quite the same. The lagniappe is different.”

There in the hospital that night, she was in her mother’s arms being comforted and giving comfort. Newly born with the new baby smell, Evelyn slept in her mother’s arms as the monster stretched its arms toward us. The hospital staff had pulled everyone away from windows. Tornado sirens were going off. The monster was more than 800 miles from us, but still its outer arms reached us.

Katrina struck ten years ago coinciding with the birth of our first child. My parents are in Louisiana, where I am from. We all watched with horror as the scene unfolded. We called my parents to tell them of the birth. We called them back the next morning as the magnitude of the destruction became apparent. The storm, headed their way, had begun destroying so much. South Louisiana’s builders were Ozymandius. Look on their works and despair. All was ruin and rubble.

My dad said they were doing the only thing reasonable people could do with the power out. They were eating all the ice cream for breakfast before it melted. Their power did go out and stayed out. Their phones went out too and stayed out. They were without access to gas for days on end.

The destruction here in Georgia was minimal. There were some downed trees. People joked that we should have named Evelyn after Katrina. They could joke. They did not really know. What was happening in Louisiana was an abstraction to them. It ended a Governor’s political career, restarted the political career of a new Governor, took lives and homes, closed businesses, caused a mass migration of people, and bits of home are still not right. Things that were there aren’t there now. Recipes in old places spared destruction are now made by new hands and do not taste quite the same. The lagniappe is different.

Ten years later the state still calls for its people to come home. Many of those people never knew life outside Louisiana until they had to know it. They left and realized they could start over and in some cases started over and did better than what they had known.

Katrina forced people out physically and mentally — out of homes and comfort zones. But the people who dance in the streets each spring throwing beads and sharing pots of gumbo from their great grandmother’s cast iron dutch oven are a hearty people with a vibrant spirit. The Acadians were forced from Canada and Katrina forced their progeny out of the bayous and Ninth Ward. Many a culture have, in the past ten years, turned a little more purple, green, and gold. The mass immigration was not wanted, but we and they have all done what we could as neighbors and friends.

We had new birth and new life in our house ten years ago today as the nation saw death and destruction and the uprooting of lives. The scars remain for South Louisiana, but the place, like our child and us, has grown. It is hard to believe it has been that long. But there, that night, as the storm drew close, Evelyn slept new and small and gave her mother comfort as she was being comforted — wrapped tightly in swaddling cloth. Life lost and life welcomed as a monster stretched its arms and howled and reminded us to keep life in proper perspective. Ten years on our daughter is tall — taller than the other kids in her class — and she asks questions about Katrina.

Katrina is not an abstraction in our lives. It arrived as Evelyn was coming into our world. It affected our family as Evelyn affects our family. We want Evelyn to know what happened the night she was born. We want her also to make sure she does not dwell on the destruction of that night. She, after all, arrived too. Now, if only I could get her like gumbo.