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Tracking 10 years of emotions

Stewart Peck on that first Mardi Gras is 2006. (Photo: Renee Peck)

Stewart Peck on that first Mardi Gras is 2006. (Photo: Renee Peck)

The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has spawned massive recountings of what happened and when, where and to whom. These facts matter. But for me, the reiteration of historical details and analysis doesn’t do justice for those of us who had to live through that bitch, Katrina.

It is those highly personal and emotional moments in life that are etched in our psyches. I have few memories of being 2, but do recall 10 minutes spent alone in the family car during an intense thunderstorm, when my mother dashed out to take down clothes from the clothesline. Those moments of lightening and thunder and aloneness were sheer terror for me, and I can close my eyes today and conjure the emotion with the memory. So it is with Katrina.

The emotional moments that are so idiosyncratic and subjective to each of us are the ones that we should mark on this day. When I think back to Katrina and its aftermath, here is what I remember … and feel:

Being dumbfounded with disbelief in a Baton Rouge hotel when we heard rumors, later confirmed, that our house had been flooded as a result of a breech in the levee, based on reports from relatives of police officers in New Orleans on what was happening there.

Compassion for a family we had taken in at my mother-in-law’s home in Houston, upon learning they had lost everything and did not have any resources.

Uncontrollable tears and sadness watching Ray Nagin on national TV, beseeching the government for help in the worse disaster in U.S. history.

Gut-wrenching despair while watching news footage of my city in the days after the storm. The feeling of grief was that of losing a loved one.

Intense feelings of utter abandonment by our federal government. And, soon after, anger toward that government, including George Bush, Michael Brown and FEMA, when my fellow citizens – especially the poor and marginal left behind – suffered so much.

Defiance in the face of that abandonment.

Feelings of love toward a stranger, a busboy at a restaurant in Houston who asked my wife and me to stand so that he could give each of us a hug.

Puzzlement when Houston shoppers in a grocery-store line stared at me blankly when I tried to engage them in conversation.

Bewilderment when I first walked into our lakefront home and saw multi-colored mold blossoms on our walls and smelled the sweet, putrid scent of flood detritus.

A feeling of liberation in dumping all of our ruined possessions on the curb. Really.

A sense of awe toward all of the church groups who came to help us, realizing that although God had no hand in this catastrophe, He was present in all of the souls who came to help.

Feelings of love and joy and community while standing on the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground on that first Mardi Gras, watching combined groups of teenagers marching in sometimes motley but enthusiastic bands. For me, that was confirmation of our rites and culture.

Utter frustration, as if living in a Kafka novel, in navigating governmental and insurance company bureaucracy and the revolving door of contractors, roofers, plumbers and the like.

Utter release and – trite, but so apt – tears of joy when Steve Gleason blocked that punt, knowing somehow in that moment that our city would persevere and rise from the deluge.

Absolute ecstasy when the Saints beat the Vikings, and then the Colts in the Super Bowl, where I danced to Iko Iko in the aisles of the Miami stadium with three beautiful black women from New Orleans who I did not know but loved all the same.

It is through these memories, and feelings, that I celebrate this anniversary. Katrina was personal to each and every one of us. But though our memories differ, similar emotions run through us all.


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