I appreciate all the kind words, folks. I'm OK. That post was done right after I got home from taking the pictures so I was feeling pretty crappy. I didn't mean for it to be a big pity party for myself.
Lisa, your Oskar Schindler comment cracked me up.
I talked to Karen on the phone, and Karen has done more to save houses in this city than probably anybody else, and we both agreed that when you get emotionally involved in a house, then the first time you drive by and see an empty lot where it used to be, it feels like a punch in the stomach. And she's taken way more punches than I have, and she still feels it.
I think what goes on in my head when these things bother me, and one of the reasons I try to volunteer so much when I wasn't that big of a volunteer-type before the storm is a weird sort of survivor's guilt.
Mark, you're probably the only one that knows exactly what I mean when I explain this. New Orleans is where I grew up, it's where I'm from and it's the city that made me the person that I am. It's a city that I love more than any other place, but for various reasons, like Mark, I moved away a long time ago, and so on 8/29, I was a mere spectator. Other than making sure family members were safe, I had very little at risk personally other than memories.
It reminds me of a person portrayed in HBO's Band of Brothers, Private David Webster. Webster was part of Easy Company, landed during the D-Day operation behind Utah Beach and was wounded there, fought in Operation Market Garden in Holland and was wounded again, received the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, and stayed with the company throughout the entire war. But he was in the hospital recovering from wounds received in Holland when the unit was besieged that winter at Bastogne. Which was probably the defining moment of any American military unit during the war. And when he returned to Easy Company after Bastogne to finish out the war with them, he was never really fully accepted back by the other men. Because he wasn't at Bastogne. What he did before didn't count, and what he did afterward didn't count. Simply because he didn't go through hell at Bastogne. So he wasn't really one of them any more.
I feel like him a lot some times. Not that I wish I was flooded out, that would be nuts. But like a 101st veteran who got to avoid Bastogne, I am a New Orleanian who did not have to survive Katrina. I will always be lacking probably the most important experience that defines a New Orleanian of this generation.
I have another high school friend who is Nth generation Y'at, born on Mardi Gras Day in the back seat of a taxi stuck in parade crowds, and she has told me that amongst her writer friends, that division was not implicit, it was explicit. Writers who had lived here only a few years treated her as a tourist because during the storm she was teaching at a university in another state. "Sorry, honey, but you weren't here for it, so you don't really know." I know it hurts her quite a bit.
So I gut other people's houses not just because I want my city back, but because I did not have to gut out my own house. I wasn't here when the power was out and the only food was MREs. I was never displaced from my home, I never lost my job. I've never had to deal with Road Home, or Allstate, or FEMA.
And I cannot help but feel that that makes me somehow less of a New Orleanian than the people who did, even the people who moved here from other places only a few years ago, or the people who came home to unflooded houses and business as usual. And like my writer friend who now lives elsewhere, it stings a little. Even though I know none of you think of me that way, and really, I'm not posting this to generate a lot of "you're doing great, Ray" stuff in the comments, it's my own personal issue that does bother me and I have to work through it.