Hurricane Katrina plus eight: Glimpsing the new normal

Eight is an odd number for an anniversary, neither a few years nor a lot. We glimpse the new normal, but the changes are incomplete. 

 The pace of change is different for different people. Do any evacuees still consider their sojourns in Houston or Atlanta to be temporary? Answers to such questions will not appear in governmental statistics on the rate of recovery.

 Image

I observed Hurricane Katrina through the windows of The Times-Picayune offices on Howard Avenue, and evacuated to Baton Rouge in the back of a newspaper delivery truck, with the waters of Lake Pontchartrain splashing between the wooden floor boards on which I sat cross-legged. 

 When the Katrina diaspora was in full swing, the Internet was the best way for The Times-Picayune to deliver news to its readers. I got on board with that trend, but was washed to sea just the same last year, when the newspaper adopted a digital-first strategy and cut publication from seven days a week to three.

 As the newspaper crafts its new image, it has cast its net nationwide for employees with fresh, new voices, in sync with the image of a New New Orleans that is progressive and open to change, rather than tradition-bound. And yet recent promotions for NOLA.com/Times-Picayune have a nostalgic theme. We glimpse the new normal, but the changes are incomplete.

 When I was 16, my parents died, and it seemed that everything started over. It was, and is, hard to remember life before those funerals.

 When I was 45, Hurricane Katrina hit, and it seemed that everything started over. It was, and is, hard to remember life before that first, unauthorized, trip back into the city, when I was greeted by the cries of my severely dehydrated cat, Magic (who went on to live until January 2013), and found myself directing my 16-year-old son to kick in our swollen front door. (The photo above shows my home on Oct. 20, 2005.)

 The bookshelves had tumbled, and in the stinking pulp was a book by Alexandra Stoddard, “Living a Beautiful Life: 500 Ways to Add Elegance, Order, Beauty and Joy to Every Day of Your Life.” Who was I when I read that book? 

Making a fresh start is harder at 45 than at 16. When you are 16, you are supposed to be just starting out, with the mistakes of youth dismissed as kid stuff. Starting over at 45 demands assessing your shortcomings as well as your potential. I have more assets, but also more responsibilities. I glimpse the new normal, but the changes are incomplete. 

 August 29, 2013

Advertisements