By Dr. Andre Perry
The recovery phase of Gulf Coast hurricanes means more than cleaning up debris caused by intense winds and torrential downpours. Recovery also means addressing insistent questions of “why do you choose to live in New Orleans?” While askers obviously have not thought deeply about this question, I do think it’s philosophical in nature. So, I offer a philosophical response with special considerations for lukewarm transplants, newbies and temporary residents who have not embraced the idea of being New Orleanian.
Living is less a question of where than how. I make a plot in New Orleans because living with storms is a way of being that I trust leads to peace. Being New Orleanian means actively deciding to live with the inevitable. I’ve reached this conclusion because the psychological concept of denial never worked well for me (or for anyone else for that matter). When one accepts the idea that storms are inevitable, a more operative and important question I wish skeptics would ask is “how do you prepare?”
Whether it’s hurricanes, divorce, getting fired or death, storms leave with much less fan fare than their anticipated arrivals. Life is horribly anticlimactic. Most storms come and go like Isaac. Yes, there are days-long power outages, but you struggle through it. Troubled times are eventually replaced by joyful ones.
Living with the good and the bad is about acceptance. It’s about learning how to ride out a storm. The day before Isaac’s landfall, my friend in D.C. asked, “Why don’t you evacuate?” I replied, “If another storm comes next week and the week after, do you leave again and again?” The social and fiscal costs are clearly impractical. Likewise with the storms in our lives, do we pack up and leave every there’s trouble?
Certainly, there are events when no amount of personal preparation will do. Evacuation is often necessary. However while it was the anniversary of the U.S.’s worst natural disaster, Isaac was not Katrina. We shouldn’t equate all hurricanes to Katrina, whose devastation should have been avoided. Her disaster revealed our policy and social inadequacies. Bad education, housing and levee systems hurt us more than the storm itself.
In the hours before Hurricane Isaac’s landfall, I didn’t ask myself “why am I here” because my city and family were better prepared. In fact, my day of preparation ended with a nighttime hurricane party. After a day of securing yard stuff, filling gas tanks, and completing other practical chores, my wife and I went to Irvin Mayfield’s I-Club. You know it’s a hurricane party when Soledad O’Brien, Anderson Cooper and Dee Dee Bridgewater are watching the band take shots a day before landfall.
But that’s what we do in New Orleans. We’ve learned how to accept and prepare for the inevitable challenges of life. One of my favorite sayings is, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” That’s what it means to be New Orleanian. So when asked, why do you live in New Orleans, you can pass along my thesis and share that learning to live with the inevitable is a lot more fun than denying it exists.
Andre Perry (@andreperrynola) is Director for Educational Initiatives at Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City