When the people come back to the Gulf Coast

I found myself wondering what will happen after the people come back to the Gulf Coast. How will they rebuild? (I don’t like build in this setting: would prefer a more organic word, because it is first and foremost a living, growing thing.) In any event, I think it will be the smaller towns which come back first. These people know that they are all they’ve got, and live it. They will be most pragmatic: this is what we have, and if anything more is to come, we will have to produce it. And they will move toward something new, even while they are trying to keep what is best of the past.

People will need to grieve, to have their if onlys, their bargaining, their emptiness. And then, and only then, they will ask the question What next? If they can do this together, the process will be better, deeper, longer lasting.

They are writing the story of hope in our day. They are the examples, in the cocoon it may be, but the examples of courage and hope and help that we will look back on years from now. They are building us, they are building the stuff of epic and myth.

They have an opportunity that many of us will come to envy: a clean slate. Well, not yet clean, but the only choice will be to gather up the debris and clean the slate. Then they can start again. Or rather, start anew.

Our ahead is together. The tool of that ahead is conversation. We need to invite conversations. On the Gulf Coast. Around the country. Every day. This minute.

The larger city people will take longer. Not only because a bigger vehicle takes longer to turn, but because they tend to think in terms of Let the big people make the decisions, I hope they do this or that. I wonder if Euell Gibbons had been in New Orleans, would he have grown fat? And if he would have organized folks around him to gather food for a feast for a whole neighborhood? It is not that his knowledge and folklore are fading fast, but that the notion that we can find what we need anywhere is fading. People can do what they need done. For themselves. Without waiting for others. Are these people capable of seeing themselves anew? Of course. But the steering wheel will need to be oiled and worked back and forth quite a bit before it will work as it could, so long has this vehicle been towed, the steering wheel locked.

And the devastation has not been as complete in New Orleans–a report for instance says that 80% of the French Quarter is still in good shape. So there will be less of a clean slate to write upon there. This is good–it is an anchor that will give people hope faster, but it is not so good–it is an anchor that could hold people and their thinking back: they will see themselves defined by their architecture, not by what might be deeper, more lasting.

But our help is necessary both places: small gatherings and large. Our work is to invite the conversations and welcome those who come.

:- Doug.

Published in: Conversations | on September 8th, 2005 | No Comments »

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