a little recap
On the surface, coming from New Orleans, that’s about as depressing a thing as anyone can say. And in that sense, I mean every bit of it: so many of our streets and schools and playgrounds and hospitals and community institutions and gardens and churches and families still so windblown and empty, their people plucked from them like brittle leaves. Our ghosts still rule the roost here. Not so much has changed.
On the other hand, it’s kind of all right, being able to say that. During and after the flood our lives were rocked by change, and not in a good way. Change is poison to a traumatized people. We had no day-to-day, and it’s the day-to-day, I believe, that gets you through the worst of shock and despair. Things are still happening here at breakneck speed, don’t get me wrong. But these days I find myself having conversations with people where we cautiously say things like, “for better or worse, things are starting to feel a little steady.”
I’m not sure what that means: whether we’re all a little more resilient these days; whether heartbreak and loss and stunning beauty, of which there have been plenty in this city over the past year, have failed to rock our foundations in the way they used to—or whether my expectations of change are that it has to be epic in order to register, that the small rootlets of growth and loss that have taken place over the last nine or so months have been manageable daily parts of a longer evolution that seems glacial in comparison to the cataclysmic traumas we experienced for so long.
I’m wondering how to tell you about the year gone by. It’s been a year of vibrant struggle in a social justice community that tends to see its milestones in terms of small victories and epic failure. I’m realizing, not with cynicism or resignation, but with the clarity you sometimes get from coming out the other side of tragedy, that this is how things are gonna be for a long time. Our wins small and precious, our losses grand and tragic, our fight dazzling and tenacious, both giving and taking of life, well into the future. I feel like this is all right too, and real. This is a time, finally, of building. We don’t tie silver ribbons to every nail; we just reach for another one and continue the small rituals our work requires of us now.
For me, it’s been a year of healing that’s been deeply personal, and more gray and tedious than I ever would have imagined. It’s not so interesting to hear about, and anyway I don’t feel as invested in writing about personal struggle as I do about collective victories against adversity: maybe that’s why I’ve been so silent for so long. I‘ve spent a lot of this year inside my heart. It’s taken me the better part of three years to mold the flood and all that happened afterward into something I can carry along with everything else, instead of a nameless shadow lurking in all my corners and alleys.
Over the last nine months or so I’ve worked hard to reel in, to balance. My work has become finite and concrete, something I can leave behind when it’s time to do other things. I’ve worked to make more room for family and all the other people who’ve carried me through these dark times. I moved out of my joyous, bustling animated household into a breezy oasis I share with no one. I’m trying to have space in my life to cook, exercise and go on long walks. I feel like I’m finally beginning to understand what all those sweet gentle people in my life meant when they told me, for years and years and years, to take care of myself.
The thing that’s hit me the hardest over the past year or so is the realization that it takes so many of us to keep just one person going. I’m about to graduate from medical school, and I’m realizing there’s nothing so humbling as these tangible moments of achievement. I’m still not positive that it’s actually gonna happen, but if I actually do walk across the stage and become a doctor next month, there are literally hundreds of people who will never be recognized who made it possible. I’m working hard to make my gratitude known to those people, to be as present in all their lives as they’ve been in mine.
There’s so much more to say but I think that’s it for now. Tomorrow, or next week, I’ll tell you stories of patients and family and the beautiful moments that have me still falling in love with this city even after all these rocky years. Today I needed to start with where I’ve been, that rough path that’s slowing down, smoothing out a little.