I could talk to ladies like that all day.
These days, we don’t only talk about blood pressure, and diabetes, and cholesterol and walking and smoking and eating less fried chicken (“I’ll stop smoking tomorrow if you want,” one of my patients told me yesterday, “but if you tell me I can’t have beer and seafood on a Friday after a long crazy week of work, I’m telling you right now, I’m never coming back here!”).
Yesterday, in addition to all those things, my patients and I talked a lot about driving. People are still so separated, especially in the African-American community. Covering hundreds of miles to keep up relationships with loved ones has become part of the fabric of so many people’s everyday lives. I’m amazed how rooted New Orleanians are, how one man who didn’t cross Canal Street for fourteen years (a true story) is now driving three hundred miles almost every week just for a night of holding his daughter.
And our rootedness is complicated: it’s not only about this place, and it’s not only about each other. There's something else, something that's maybe even about the whole nature of how we’ve learned to love here. I think about how it’s only that deeper-than-the-deepest-part-of-your-belly kind of love that can justify such repeated, epic, most likely irrational hundred-mile journeys; and then I think about the almost amputated feeling people describe who’ve had to move away for jobs or schools ‘cause there’s so much less of those here these days. What does it mean to have to choose between doing the best for the people you love, and living in the only place in the world where you feel whole? What does it mean that so many among us are (still! almost two years later!) forced to make that choice? Can we legitimately say, under these conditions, that we're succeeding in rebuilding our home?
And people keep surviving. “I’m in a FEMA trailer outside my old place,” one patient said to me yesterday. He works 10-hour days as a gardner, and his wife and sons are living in Gramercy, where the boys are in school. Every other weekend, either he or his wife makes the trip so the family can be reconnected. “I decided, I’m getting surround sound for my TV. My son laughed so hard when I told him that. Surround sound in a FEMA trailer! But at the end of a long day outside, to sit down in my little chair—it’s a little chair—and kick back with a beer and feel like I’m at the movies? I want my family back together, i want my house back, I want my old job and health insurance and a place for my boys to get a decent education-- but I'll settle for that.”