Last week our law firm’s New Orleans office re-opened. Well, ‘re-opened’ is a bit strong since not everyone who was in this office is able to return here right now. The first day there was a small band of lawyers and staff members, and since then a few more people have moseyed in.
A new practice has developed in our offices: the firm buys lunch and we all eat together. Today was a typical lunch. We had chinese food and about 10 people showed up. Naturally, the conversation was about Katrina-related stuff. One of our lawyers, a Louisiana legislator, talked about what’s going to happen at the special legislative session in a few weeks. A couple of other lawyers were talking about what legal steps can be taken to get rid of our ineffective Orleans Parish School Board. But don’t get the impression that the lunch sessions are about lawyers having lunch with other lawyers. The people who show up at lunch are lawyers, secretaries, paralegals, staff members and even people who don’t work for the firm. One day Vincent, who does courier runs, enjoyed a meal and some Katrina conversation. Another day it was the Fed-Ex guy.
No one acts superior. No one has an agenda. We all just want to hear what’s going on in everyone’s life. Susan Barden talked about her insurance adjuster and what a nice guy he was. She told us that State Farm has a psychiatrist to help the adjusters learn how to cope with the psychological trauma of their job, mostly in terms of dealing with homeowners who have lost everything. After she talked there was a brief lull as we all reflected on how hard it must be for the nice adjuster that came to Susan’s house.
Cindy Nicholson had a great observation. These days we all feel perfectly comfortable engaging anyone else in a conversation. A weird small town friendliness pervades all social interactions. At restaurants people routinely lean over and join in a conversation taking place at the next table.
Most people who are back in the city want to help each other out, even perfect strangers. Of course, there is a flip side too. While we are mostly upbeat, we are very intolerant of those who are selfish and impatient. The other day in the Walgreens parking lot someone got upset at the temporary gridlock and started leaning on his car horn. Cindy said that everyone in the parking lot stopped and glared at the impatient driver. An elderly woman walked up to the blaring car and sternly shook her finger. Fortunately, this sort of thing is rare.
Cindy, Susan and I reflected on how satisfying it is to live in New Orleans right now. Every day you see something inspiring, some simple ordinary thing that somehow brings great joy. We all know that the city is hobbled but we all have great hope that it can be better, and that it will be better. New Orleans was always a great city that was trying to become something even greater, but it just couldn’t gather the necessary momentum. Now we can create the momentum. Now we can become the great city we were trying to become. Sure it will take time, but it will happen. We can all feel it, and that’s the most inspiring thing of all.
As I left the lunchroom I grabbed a fortune cookie and started back to my office. I opened it and read the wonderfully apt message that it contained: "Rome was not built in a day. Be patient." I smiled and read it again. Then I taped it to my computer monitor so that I’ll see it every day.
Patience is something you often have to remind yourself to have.