Lately, it seems as if New Orleans’ persistent cloud of violence has been growing more ominous and downright defiant. For the second time in three weeks, a fellow New Orleanian was murdered right as I sat down to write this column (he was trying to stop a carjacking). And 37 year-old Kenyatta Woolridge was killed in the 7th Ward on Monday night.
It’s enough to almost make you lose hope in our great city.
Almost. Because the other side of the equation is that it is impossible to lose hope in this great city as long as it has so many great residents who call it home.
I was reminded of that, in the most wonderfully arbitrary way, while having drinks at Tonique the other night with my friends Jessie and Rachel. As the Blanche du Bois cocktails flowed, we somehow found ourselves talking about tattoos. Rachel mentioned that she was going to the tattoo shop down the street to have a rather, shall we say, graphic tattoo done in a very, uh, sensitive area (this being a right respectable site, I’ll leave it at that).
“Isn’t that guy mean?” a patron who overheard our conversation asked.
“Nah, he’s just bored,” Jessie explained.
She then told us how Mr. Bored not Mean and his girlfriend had spent last summer and fall saving up money to buy a big-screen TV. By Christmas time they had all their money saved. But instead of going to Best Buy, they took all their money to Pet Asylum in the Quarter. They asked how many doggy bags of leashes, food and toys they could get for their TV money.
“The answer is a lot,” chimed in Rachel. They came back later that day to pick up mounds of doggy bags and, then, spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Quarter, handing out bags to every gutter punk and homeless person they saw with a dog. They figured those dogs (who usually are tied up with fraying rope) could use new leashes a lot more than they needed a big TV.
Rachel and Jessie then went on to say how this particular act had inspired them to work out a deal with Subway in which they’d get some party subs and water and give them away to the homeless people who gather near where they work.
“That’s lovely,” another patron chimed in. “My husband and I regularly take food to our homeless friends (yes, she used the word friends) who gather under the overpass at Claiborne and Esplanade.”
Which prompted yet another patron (the best dressed of the bunch, by far) to confess that, for years, he had always rolled up his windows and locked the doors of his fancy sports car as he drove past the Mission.
“Then one day, I decided that instead of speeding up as I drove by, I’d turn in and go inside.” A lawyer by training (we talk to all kinds at Tonique), he walked inside and asked the stunned staff how he could help. Simple as that. He now offers a weekly legal clinic there.
All of this unfolded in less than 10 minutes. Among a random group of people, most of whom didn’t even know each other. In a random bar. On a random Saturday night. No one was boasting about their acts. No one posted them on Facebook to earn accolades. They were just demonstrating an inherent part of what it means to live in New Orleans: to, fundamentally, love thy neighbor (and her dogs) as you love thyself.
And it told me something. It told me that, no matter how ominous and threatening our clouds are right now, New Orleans will get through this storm of violence. Because the inherent light of the people who live here is stronger than any cloud.
Because compassion always wins out over violence.
This column is dedicated to Kenyatta Woolridge, killed on January 23, and the Good Samaritan killed on January 25, New Orleans’ two most recent homicides. Please be sure to participate in this week’s Strike Against Crime, including tomorrow’s annual Victims Memorial at noon at City Hall.
Brett Will Taylor writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his blog at thestoryblogbwt.wordpress.com.