The Day the Music Stopped

“Hammond: B-3, 9th Ward, New Orleans.” Frank Stewart. 2006 [photo of a photo]

We will never forget. Hurricane Katrina. 08.29.05.


About the Image: I shot the photo of a photo nine years ago while in New York City. The Hammond B-3 organ was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago today [New Orleans, August 29, 2005]. The photograph is part of Traveling Full Circle: Frank Stewart’s Visual Music, which was exhibited at at the Lincoln Center in New York City in 2011.  You can learn more about Stewart, longtime Senior Staff Photographer for Jazz at the Lincoln Center, and his body of work by visiting his website: Frank Stewart.

Raindrops and Perfection

He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. –Matthew 5:45 MSG

It seems appropriate to talk about rain today–this 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina–but I have no desire to revisit that horror today. The photo above features my favorite line from R.H. Peat’s poem “Perfection.” When I “encountered” it on the blog Sightseeing at Home a few months ago, I decided to create a series of photos using lines from the poem.

Every oak will lose a leaf to the wind.
Every star-thistle has a thorn.
Every flower has a blemish.
Every wave washes back upon itself.
Every ocean embraces a storm.
Every raindrop falls with precision.
Every slithering snail leaves its silver trail.
Every butterfly flies until its wings are torn.
Every tree-frog is obligated to sing.
Every sound has an echo in the canyon.
Every pine drops its needles to the forest floor.
Creation’s whispered breath at dusk comes
with a frost and leaves within dawn’s faint mist,
for all of existence remains perfect, adorned,
with a dead sparrow on the ground. –“Perfection” by R.H. Peat

The photo above is the first in the series. I even photographed a dead sparrow I happened across one afternoon. There was nothing poetic about that image, so we can probably forget about adding the last line to the series–unless I approach it less literally.

The incongruity between the poetic lines and the actual image of the sparrow reminds me of our tendency to use language to “pretty up” some really “jacked up” aspects of life. I’m learning that such language doesn’t minimize the ugliness and does little, if anything, to help. In some instances, what appears to be encouragement or inspiration is actually damaging. There’s nothing glamorous about struggle. Nothing to celebrate in being strong enough to withstand the blows. People who struggle with mental and/or physical illnesses don’t need platitudes. They need help. They need support. They need love. It is easier to come to grips with life when we realize, no matter how hellish, life is just that. . .life.

Isn’t that the point of Peat’s poem? Life with all its “stuff” happens to us all–whether we’re good, bad, nice, nasty, or somewhere in between. That is part of our messy, perfect existence in this world.

Nine Years Since… (Reblog on the 12th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina)

On this date that marks the twelfth year since Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of New Orleans (NOLA), it’s difficult to look at images of Texas under water without thinking about NOLA. My knowing that people are displaced (again) and have lost homes (again) and that their lives will be changed (again) does more than pull at my heart strings. This knowledge conjures all the feelings of Post-Katrina New Orleans that I want to avoid. I keep turning away, forcing my gaze away from the images and the stories. But. It’s important that we look. It’s necessary that we feel. It’s imperative that we do something to help.

Lives are affected in more ways than many can imagine and will be for some time. If those of us who were living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina still feel its effects 12 years later, it’s not hard to comprehend the shock and trauma of those who are going through the ordeal at this moment.

Pics and Posts

I’ve been slightly agitated all week long, with “something” gnawing just beneath the surface.  I couldn’t figure the cause of my mental discomfort till late last night when the date “August 29th” hit  me.  August 29th.  August 29th.  Nine years ago, I woke up in my sister’s home in Lithonia, Georgia to discover that just as we all breathed a sigh of relief thinking NOLA had been spared the worst of Hurricane Katrina, the flood protection walls breached.  With that break, so many things in my life changed all at once, and I found myself vacillating between moments of hopefulness and moments of helplessness.  My husband and I did not lose our home, but we lost so much more than that, and in some ways, I am still dealing with those losses today.

I realized recently that I’m a slow griever.  Grief ekes out slowly, laboriously, as I feel I have time to “handle” unpleasant and difficult…

View original post 918 more words

Nine Years Since…

I’ve been slightly agitated all week long, with “something” gnawing just beneath the surface.  I couldn’t figure the cause of my mental discomfort till late last night when the date “August 29th” hit  me.  August 29th.  August 29th.  Nine years ago, I woke up in my sister’s home in Lithonia, Georgia to discover that just as we all breathed a sigh of relief thinking NOLA had been spared the worst of Hurricane Katrina, the flood protection walls breached.  With that break, so many things in my life changed all at once, and I found myself vacillating between moments of hopefulness and moments of helplessness.  My husband and I did not lose our home, but we lost so much more than that, and in some ways, I am still dealing with those losses today.

I realized recently that I’m a slow griever.  Grief ekes out slowly, laboriously, as I feel I have time to “handle” unpleasant and difficult emotions or the feeling of being out of control.

Typically, I turn away from Katrina and Post-Katrina pictures, but I bought the books and documentaries and captured photos for the time when I will be able to look without turning away.  So today, in an effort to face “head on” some of the raw emotions associated with Hurricane Katrina, I forced myself to look at pictures of homes that I shot a few months after Katrina.  In so doing, I peered into that moment when nature shook everything out of control.  Perhaps, now I can begin to deal with discontinuity and change, not for survival but to live and breathe again.

The photos in this post were all shot December 2005, a few months after the hurricane.  My oldest sister and her oldest daughter (my lovely niece) were visiting from Texas, so we decided to take a drive to view some of the devastation.

In a city like New Orleans, we’re always so careful to lock our doors, particularly just before we leave town.  I imagine the owners of this home, like my husband and I, locked their doors, set the alarm, and left with a few days supply of very casual clothes, fully intending to return to normality days later. Instead, they returned…to salvage what could be salvaged and to have their home gutted…

For me, these images of a home completely displaced from its foundation represents the sudden shift in reality for New Orleanians.  This is how all those first moments and months felt, like some huge thing shifted out of place and repositioned itself where it did not belong.

This next set of houses is a bit more personal–

"2333 Port Street," New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

“Beyond Repair,” New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

This was the house of a family I am close to.  On the surface, not so bad. But in reality, thanks to Katrina, broken beyond repair.

The next two images are of my Aunt Rosemary’s house.  She lived directly across the street from my grandmother, so I spent time at her home whenever I visited my grandmother.  Free huck-a-bucks, a scrumptious meal or treat were always waiting along with our simply fun and off-beat conversations about this and that.  Mae-Mae, as she was affectionately known, played the lottery like no one else I’ve ever known.  I remember, once, she showed me a shopping bag full of lottery tickets.  She helped me select my wedding dress.

"My Aunt's House," New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

“My Aunt’s House,” New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

She had her home rebuilt. She lived in a “Katrina Trailer” for quite some time while waiting for her home to be rebuilt. It was finished in 2008.  She died suddenly, within months of moving into her newly refurbished home.  I’m sure she was one more casualty of the storm.  More loss.  I remember not crying at her funeral because I was afraid the dam would break and I wouldn’t be able to control the flow.

"Contents from My Aunt's House," New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

“Contents from My Aunt’s House,” New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

Nothing in the home was salvageable. Water topped the roof.  Fortunately, she had given my mom the box of old family pictures some time before the storm.  Priceless memories preserved.

This last one cuts deeper than I care to acknowledge.

"My Grandmother's House," New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

“My Grandmother’s House,” New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

I can’t even put into words what I feel when I see images of this house that my grandfather built with his own hands 70 years ago, when my mom was just 7 years old.  I’m sure every grandchild did a little growing up in this home.  My grandfather died when I was nine-years-old, so this has always been in my consciousness “my grandmother’s house.”  It was second home to many of us grandchildren and Grandma always had lots of love for us and our ever-growing families.  We typically used the back door to enter the house and loved hanging out on the front porch.  She died a decade before Hurricane Katrina (one of my aunts was living in the home at the time of Katrina).  Water topped the roof.  This house that survived major hurricanes–the Hurricane of 1947 and Hurricane Betsy in 1965, and dodged Hurricanes Camille (1969), Georges (1998), and (our Pre-K warning) Ivan (2004)–fell to Katrina.

"My Grandmother's House," New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

“My Grandmother’s House,” New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

I could have fallen to the ground and cried when I saw this.  How CRAZY this seemed to me, at first, how unreal that there would be no more memories made in this place.  Instead, I sucked up the pain, snapped a few photos and moved on.

I began to see my life as preK (pre-Katrina) and postK (post-Katrina).  There’s a bit of fuzziness to my preK memory, probably because I don’t want to look too fondly on or romanticize a time before.  After we moved to Alabama a couple of years ago, I stopped referring to life as preK and postK because only New Orleanians (and those many others directly affected) would truly understand.

Days after the levees broke, I went with one of my closest friends, Tarshia, to a mall in Atlanta where she treated me to a pedicure.  We took a trip to Build-a-Bear where I “built” this bear. Her name is “Trini,” short for Katrina.  I refused to clothe her because I felt Katrina had taken everything from us and left us all exposed.  I left her so.

"Trini," Hurricane Katrina Bear, August 2005

“Trini,” Hurricane Katrina Bear, August 2005

I realized just last night that since Katrina, I’ve been holding my breath.  And every loss since has simply made me inhale a bit more deeply.  Maybe, with this acknowledgement, I can start breathing again…

"Hope for Our Future," New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005

“Hope for Our Future,” New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2005