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Thanking Katrina

Katrina_paperSunday morning, as most people were waking up to find out that Katrina had become a Category 5 hurricane, I went for my usual jog in Audubon Park.  There were only one or two other people in the park that morning.  Most people were feverishly trying to get out of the city. I should have tried to leave sooner, but for some reason I was not inclined to leave.  Maybe it was stupidity, but whatever the reason I wound up staying in the city.

The power went out at 2 am, right before Katrina hit New Orleans.
Hours earlier, before the power went out, I created a blog post
entitled Massive change is coming to New Orleans.
Change arrived with a furious wind that alternated between high
frequencies and sweeping wooshes.  Stuck in the 10th floor of my dad’s
condo with no lights and no radio or television left me little in the
way of choices.  I started to think about all the things that could go
wrong and all the ways I could get injured or even possibly die, but
that didn’t seem like a good way to spend the evening.  So I decided to
lay down.  Then I started to focus my attention on breathing slowly and
rhythmically.  By the time the storm ended I had essentially meditated
for several hours, and was surprisingly relaxed.  It sounds weird to
say this, but it’s true: what I experienced during Katrina probably
changed me more than almost any other experience I’ve had in my life.
It was the moment I fully realized that the only thing I can control in
life is my own outlook.

In the aftermath of Katrina every problem seemed inconsequential, not because it didn’t matter, but because there was little I could do about most of them.  When the levees broke it was clear that there were all sorts of serious problems that I had little control over.  Driving around Uptown I’d come across people I knew who were at once eager to talk (to gather information) and also eager to keep moving.  The city was chaotic and purposeful at the same time.  I went to my house to repair the roof damage.  Then I cleared out my refrigerator and gathered my key belongings: my laptop computer, my guitar, some basic clothes and important personal mementos.  After I had packed everything into my car I stood in front of a Buddha statute caked with insulation that had streamed from the hole in my kitchen ceiling.  I’d always been comforted by the statute’s calm meditative pose and so I stopped and silently prayed before it.  I forced myself to acknowledge that I would be leaving my house in a city that was quickly turning into a lawless state of nature, and there was a strong chance that it wouldn’t be inhabitable when I returned.  I agreed to accept whatever happened as my fate and not to complain about it. I resolved to work hard to keep my outlook postive.

As my friend Becky and I drove out of the city on late Tuesday afternoon we passed a makeshift electronic roadsign that stated simply: "New Orleans Closed."   I wanted to take a picture of that sign, but there was too much urgency surrounding everything.  Stopping to take a picture of a road sign would have been somehow shamefully trivial.  And so I just kept driving, not really knowing where I was going or what direction my life would take.  I had a car filled with my key possessions and a cellphone with which I could talk to people, and access my email inbox.  For weeks I lived my life day-to-day, being taken in by various kind souls.  I went from New Orleans to Dallas to Kansas City to Houston to Baton Rouge and finally to New Orleans.  Everywhere I went people were brimming with concern and eager to help.  I received countless emails and phone calls, some from friends that I’d lost touch with for many years.  It was comforting to receive such concern, mostly because it revealed to me that a connection with other people is the most valuable thing that one can have.  And, while this connection can be disrupted by a natural disaster, it can never be destroyed.

So, now almost three months after Katrina, I can say that the storm has shown me two things that I am be very grateful for: (1) the importance of having wonderful friends and family, and (2) the lesson that I alone am responsible for my own happiness.  I thank every one of you who I have gotten to know in the past few years, especially those of you who reached out after Katrina.  Your friendship is a sacred gift and I cherish it above all else.  My family is sacred to me as well.   Unfortunately, I will not get to spend the day with any of them.

For months now I’ve been planning for Thanksgiving, realizing that I would probably spend the day alone.   After all that I’ve been through in past year I can assure you that spending the day alone on Thanksgiving is no big deal.  I’m actually looking forward to it.  I’m going get up and meditate and go for my usual morning run.  Then, after I piddle around and watch the Macy’s parade on TV, I’m going to cook up an MRE in my backyard.   Before I eat the hearty meal I will stand before my calm Buddha statute and offer profound thanks for the wonderful friends and family that I have blessed with.  I’ll call my dad and brother in Panama and chat for awhile, after which I’m going to walk the two blocks it takes to get into Audubon Park.  I’ll look around for a nice quiet place to sit down, and then I’ll try to spend a few hours meditating, just like I did the morning of August 29th. 

There probably won’t be many people in the park besides me, which is okay.  Another thing I’ve learned is that no matter what’s going on around you, when you meditate you’re always alone.

P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.


  • Lucy says:

    Upon further reflection…I’ve determined that I would have LOVED to spend the day with you.

  • Lucy says:

    I read your post thinking how Odd it is that some of us were with friends and family and could only wish for the tranquil solitude that you had. I would have enjoyed spending the day with you.

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