Thursday, October 13, 2005
WHAT IT MEANS TO LOSE THE LOWER NINTH WARD
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.