Thursday, October 13, 2005


Originally uploaded by s j b.
Hurricane Katrina devastated much; it tumbled houses, and then destroyed what was left of them with mold. It emptied a city and uprooted millions. But for those who have eyes to see, it also cast a light on an amazing place known as the lower ninth ward--if only in its destruction.

After the hurricane, Anne Rice wrote a moving article for the New York Times entitled "What it Means to Lose New Orleans." But as the weeks have passed, I've come to believe that losing the Lower Ninth Ward is the greater tragedy. The French Quarter may have been where tourists from all over the world encountered and enjoyed the rich culture of New Orleans, but the lower ninth ward was its heart.

An unpretentious enclave of simple homes and hardworking people, it was a place where extended families had lived for generations, where neighbors took care of each other, where they scolded each other's children because they were in some fundamental way their children, too. Where people were taught manners and Christian charity and how to throw a hell of a party. It was a place where music and food laced with garlic and cayenne and laughter were only the outward signs of the deep cultural roots that knit them together. Faith was not abstract or theoretical in the lower ninth ward. It was what got you through your day, what governed the way you treated people, and made you optimistic even the world outside the neighborhood was full of land mines like violence and drug addiction and racism. It was a place that gave rise to the kind of joy that expressed itself in the famous music of the city.

And whether you're black or whether you're white, chances are you don't live anywhere that resembles the lower ninth ward. Chances are there's no one down the street who not only knew you when you were small, but knew your mother and father, too, and who's looking out for you the way only people who have that kind of connection do.

Tonight the people of the lower ninth ward are scattered and homeless. They've lost their jobs and mostly everything they own. But many of them are trying to stay together in Houston, taking care of each other, tending each others spirits, watching one another's children, and keeping the lower ninth ward alive. And in spite of all their losses, they are sustained by something that has become increasingly rare and precious in America, something far too many of us lack: the incredible strength that comes from real community.


gulnaz said...

you bought the lower ninth award to life for me, somebody who has never even been there. it was a special place indeed. the sense of community you write about is getting lost even here. something which i have begun to realise now. it is such a joy to connect with people on that level. i'm sure they will bounce back again, i hope they do!
a beautiful moving post.

last book i read was almost a month ago and my mind craves words to get lost sink its teeth into....i find it strange but now i know its called book hunger...:)
thanks for the excellent list.

Patry Francis said...

Oh Gulnaz, I'm sad to hear that even in India, this is happening. But in a way I'm not surprised. Technology, the creation of suburbs, and cheap fossil fuels have given us the illusion that we are independent and no longer need old fashioned community. But the number of people on anti-depressants, etc. suggests otherwise.

Patry Francis said...

Scot: I'm afraid you're right. Years not months--if ever. I only hope that the strong community that is there can reestablish itself, along with its culture and values somewhere else. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for caring enough to write about it... I didn't know.

Real community indeed.

Patry Francis said...

Peter: And thank you for caring enough to read it.

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