My dear New Orleans,
So this is good-bye.
1,159 days ago, you called me here. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know you well, but I came anyway. There was something in your call that I trusted. That I knew.
To be true.
And, now, here we are. With 29 days to go. Before I leave you. To answer another call. Again both unfamiliar and trusted.
But, before I go, I want to say thank you.
To you, New Orleans.
Life with you has been an endless loop of second lines on Sunday; Manchu on Monday; glitter on Tuesday; gunshots on Wednesday; stoop nights on Thursday; indictments on Friday; and 3 a.m. crawfish-mac-n-cheese with your neighbors on Saturday. In their boat. Which they keep up on cinder blocks. In Treme.
You’ve made me forget what day it is. What month it is. Hell, sometimes even what season it is. There have been times when our dance has felt like one very long, very lost weekend. But sometimes it is in the lost that you’re found.
And that’s why you called me here, isn’t it, New Orleans? To find myself. To heal myself.
I think the secret is in the masks.
Me, I didn’t know anything about masks when I got here. I was a “what you see is what you get” kinda guy. That happens when you’re born in Texas and become a man in Boston.
But then, one day, as the good Dr. John says, your eyes caught mine and I knew this was my chance. To follow you off-stage and look back. At the performances we all play.
The masks we all wear.
You whispered that’s why people come to you. To try out a new act.
To trade one mask. For another.
And then you showed me what you meant.
You showed me those who are lost on your stage. And never found. But you don’t judge. You just put your arms around them and offer safe passage. Loving passage. However long it takes and wherever it might lead.
You showed me those who think they own your stage. Who think you, my dear New Orleans, are just one gentrified block away from realizing your true potential. They try their damnedest to squeeze you into a fancy corset of their own making. You just chuckle. You’ve been starring in this show for 295 years. You’ve seen a lot of people. A lot of corsets.
And you’re the one who’s still here.
You showed me the thousands upon thousands of people who come to you and find the mask that fits. The them that fits. And you just smile. As you welcome each and every one. Home.
Finally, my dear New Orleans, you showed me … me.
All alone on your stage.
A boy, a man, a performer who had spent a lifetime trying on every mask I could find. In a frantic rush to get the part. Any part.
You showed me how, somewhere along the way of learning the lines an adult learns, I’d lost the mystery in my life’s performance. My masks were all planned, all calculated, all controlled.
“There’s no joy in that,” you said. “No glitter, either.”
That’s when you reached over and opened my heart.
And that, as they say, has made all the difference.
Because when you opened my heart, you also opened my eyes. To the very simple fact that we’re all on a singular journey. To find our way home. To ourselves.
Our true selves.
It’s not always easy and there’s no guarantee we’ll make it.
Who cares? The fun, the joy, is in the journey itself. Besides, if you don’t get it right this go ‘round, there’s always next time.
So, why not put down all the masks we’re told to wear, shred all the scripts we’re told to read, blow some glitter across this marvelous stage we call life, and pull each other close. Love each other truly. Celebrate each other daily.
That’s what you’ve showed me.
That’s how you’ve healed me.
That’s why I’ve shared your stories.
And that is why, while my feet will always be caked with hard, black Texas dirt and my mind will always think like a Bostonian, my heart, ah my heart. My heart will always beat to your rhythm and sway.
My dear, dear New Orleans.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern storyteller who will soon be leaving New Orleans for western points both known and unknown. His new monthly column, The Diving Board Chronicles, will debut here at NolaVie next month. Follow him at @bwtshaman or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org