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Thoughts from a morning jog

By September 5, 2005katrina

And rising from his vision, he cried: "I am not there among the cities.  I have sought down a million streets, until the goat-cry died within my throat, and I have found no city where I was, no door where I had entered, no place where I had stood."
                                                                             – Look Homeward Angel, Thomas Wolfe

Today I went for my usual morning jog.  Well, actually, it wasn’t my usual morning jog because for the past year my usual morning jog was among the Oak trees that lined Audubon Park in New Orleans.  As I ran around the one mile circuit in Mill Creek Park I saw what looked like the familiar face of Steve Kupperman, an attorney in New Orleans whom I frequently saw walking his dog.  But then I realized that I was in Kansas City, not New Orleans.

Our minds are funny.  We’re so used to seeing familiar things that when we are displaced to a new location we start to create familiarity out of unfamiliar things.  I feel like that’s happening to me now.

Last week, Katrina blasted into New Orleans and brought widespread flooding, followed by massive societal change. People who daily rubbed past each other in a familiar world were swiftly scattered around in a wisp, like human wheat chaffe.  In the days that followed the rest of the nation watched horrendous images on TV.  But the former residents of New Orleans barely had time to watch gruesome videos; they had to make swift decisions about where they would live in the next few months or years.

The human mind really can’t process this sort of thing very easily, and the evidence of this shows up in the little moments, the ones that typically don’t seem monumental. 

In the days after the hurricane my cellphone stopped working reliably, even though I had moved to an area that actually had a communications infrastructure.  So I called Sprint to see if they could get me a number in a new area code outside New Orleans so that I could make and receive calls.  "Sure," said the cheerful representative, "what’s your new address?"  The question was delivered in a monotonous matter-of-fact kind of way.  Still, I felt a sudden rush of anxiety. I hadn’t given any thought at all about where my new address would be.

An address is just a place where you receive mail.  So I could have given the nice Sprint representative a friend’s address.  But somehow her routine administrative inquiry caused me to confront a bigger question: where will I build my next familiar world and how long will it take? 

Perhaps it will be built in my mind, patched together out of old memories and new impressions.  One thing is certain, though.  It won’t be built quickly.


P.S. If you appreciate my observations, you might want to check this out.

3 Comments

  • Bob Phelps says:

    Once you settle on a place you will probably be amazed at how quickly it becomes familiar. I think that’s because from what I can tell you are fortunate to be an enthusiastic person who will be able to pretty quickly create a comfortable, productive environment.

    Meanwhile there’s the terrible sadness that comes for many of the displaced aren’t who aren’t as fortunate as you are; the small things that made their world comfortable may be harder to replace in new unfamiliar worlds in which they will have to struggle very hard.

    It’s a very big planet. I understand that you may only be able to practice law in a few states, but if your professional obligations can be managed, this may be a good time to take a year and travel in other countries.

    Good luck to you.

  • Nick Mizell says:

    Hey Ernie, if you stay in Kansas City any longer or return, you are welcome to stay at my house anytime. We have a guest room with its own bathroom. The boys have their Game Cube in there, but I’m sure they would share with you. I’m so glad to hear that you safely weathered the storm and made it out of the city and that your kids, while displaced, are also safe. Please let me and anyone else at SHB know if there’s anything we can do for you and how best we can help our friends at Gordon, Arata. – Nick.

  • Rick Talcott says:

    Hey Ernie –

    re: getting broadsided by an address request.

    Nancy & I had the same sort of experience after we were burned out in the Oakland Hills fire. We were in Hawaii talking to Pele while the fire was visiting our neighborhood, and there wan’t much point in going back to Oakland early, so we went snubaing. Snuba is a cross between snorkeling and skin diving except the air tank is on a raft which is floating on the surface. So anyway, when we finished the snuba dive, they gave us a certificate and said, “Put this up on your wall.”

    Sudden pause while we remembered that we didn’t have a wall…

    Rick Talcott

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