Hurricane Katrina unleashed hell on New Orleans ten years ago this week. Levees burst, storm waters surged, and families fled – their homes ruined, their hopes scattered. From the horrors witnessed in the Superdome to decency inside the wreckage, stories detailing the endurance of survivors cover the news.
Katrina changed my life, though in a less accosting way than most. A visit to post-Katrina New Orleans propelled me on an inward journey. Part selfish search for meaning – part reconciliation – without New Orleans this quest never happens. And I’m likely not doing anything – writing, storytelling, volunteering – that I’m doing today.
Many Katrina stories exist. This is mine.
I sat on the fractured wood floor of a single-room Baptist church buried in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and rested my back against a white wall rotted by water and spotted with dark circles. It was early August 2007 and the second to last day of a volunteer trip I made to paint schools ravaged by Hurricane Katrina almost two years earlier. Sweat dripped from behind my bent knees, slipped down my calves, and settled on the ridge of the dirt-stained tube socks stuck to my legs. On the floor near my right leg rested a black Bible. I flipped through its smudged, cracked pages with my yellow and green paint-stained fingers. Moses melted into Jesus who melted into Paul and the disciples. They all vanished into Revelations.
In front of me, a decaying white hat clung to the edge of a large pulpit streaked by ash the way pale scars decorate a ravaged body. Members of my volunteer group stepped over broken statues and around pictures of Jesus, cautiously making their way through this tiny house of God long ago left to rot. Others sat on the dust and mold covered pews in the church’s center. They pointed at the water lines that reached a foot below the sole wooden cross hanging just below the ceiling. The building had flooded when the levees burst, swallowed like the rest of New Orleans. My life was about to change, though I didn’t realize it steaming in the church. (more…)