Five years ago, I left Jackson with all my belongings to attend university in New Orleans. While at Loyola, I had no intention of calling Jackson my home again.
One year ago, I returned to Jackson amid a line of cars evacuating before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. I only brought enough clothes with me to last the weekend.
While at Loyola, I had already evacuated New Orleans several times for hurricanes that inevitably missed the city. The traffic deadlock stretching across the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge felt fairly routine at first, and I enjoyed the quiet time in the car listening to music, talking on the phone with friends and concocting imaginary stories about the other drivers.
But as the hours passed, the news on the radio began to take on a more desperate tone. Evacuation was being urged, and each weather update reinforced the irrefutable fact that the hurricane was speeding directly toward New Orleans.
When I left Jackson in the fall of 2001, I could not imagine a future for myself in the city. What market is there for a freelance graphic designer? The suburbs aren't for me. A life of identical houses, SUVs and chain restaurants didn't offer the vitality I was craving. I was determined to create a life for myself somewhere—anywhere—else.
New Orleans fulfilled my craving for stimulation in multitudes. I became a part of a vibrant arts community. I discovered an eclectic bar scene that provided any desired atmosphere. I saw live music from national acts at the House of Blues to local jazz musicians on Frenchman Street. I learned what it meant to attend a Champagne brunch. For three weeks out of the year, Mardi Gras became the city's zeitgeist. The daily task of eating became a delightful adventure in spice and flavor.
Over the course of my four years there, I fell in love with New Orleans.
As my family and I recovered from the effects of Hurricane Katrina in Jackson, we began to hear bits of the news from New Orleans. The levees had broken, and the city's worst fears of massive flooding had been realized. I wondered if my apartment would be safe from looting. Several businesses around my area had been ransacked and burned.
The stories of people trapped with no salvation made me question whether this was actually occurring in America. The surreal awe of the situation quickly became concrete despair because I recognized the places and streets from the news footage as the same city I loved.
Living full time at home with my family was small consolation for the intense malaise of my post-Katrina world. The life I had spent the past four years building in New Orleans was gone overnight. Several weeks would pass before any part of the city was deemed inhabitable. Even afterward, there would be no work for a graphic designer; people were still gutting their lives and rebuilding their homes.
Through a little initiative and a lot of luck, I quickly became involved with the Jackson Free Press as a graphic designer. Immediately, I enjoyed the benefit of creating work that felt like it mattered. A design is only as good as the information it communicates, and the writers of the JFP communicate the most relevant news and cultural information in the city. Period.
Suddenly, the spark I had left Jackson to find became a flame right here at home. I was confronted with the fact that there are things to do in Jackson. There is a vibrant arts community. Time passed, and I became involved with the Crossroads Film Festival. I marched in the St. Paddy's Day Parade. I rented an apartment in Belhaven.
The JFP was opening doors for me and painting a bright portrait of Jackson that replaced the bleak requiem for the city in my memory.
When I revisited what I wanted my life to be like at age 22, many of the answers seemed to present themselves right here in Jackson. I wanted to be able to support myself as a graphic designer. I wanted to be able to make an impact in the community. I wanted to live in a creative-class city, networking with other young creatives. I wanted a plethora of options for restaurants and nightlife.
One by one, my criteria for life were being met by what Jackson has to offer. This time, instead of rejecting the city, I've embraced it, and I couldn't be happier. Hurricane Katrina took so much from so many people, but it did give me the opportunity to return to the city I grew up in and join in its Renaissance.
While I am happy with my circumstances, this week I will mourn the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I will mourn for what I saw happen on the news. I'll mourn for the effects of Katrina that I've seen in my subsequent visits to New Orleans. I'll mourn for the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans who have had their lives ripped apart, and are still struggling to rebuild what was lost.
In addition to mourning, however, I'll remember what it is that made me fall in love with New Orleans. There is an unshakable passion for life among New Orleanians that cannot be denied.
So, yes, mourn this week for all that has been lost. More importantly, do something this week with passion. Do something to excess. In treating yourself to that small moment, you will be carrying all the passion and vitality that New Orleanians understand make life worth living.
E-mail Darren Schwindaman at [e-mail missing]
What a luminous, hauntingly beautiful piece. Thank you.
- anne mayeaux
mourn this week for sure, it will never go easily into the night.
whatever Dylan Thomas said, just cameto mind.
the 'unshakeable passion for life..' yesI that is the precious thing
that we cannot let be let gone, the city that just said that more
than any other, and all who love that city, what can we do?
it breaks our hearts, we don't want to just be angry..we want that
city back, damnit.