I'm in New Orleans, LA (NOLA)for Celebrate V the Ecumenical Gathering of Christian College Students. The conference is great, but the city is the real experience. I was in NOLA for a Lutheran Student Movement gathering new year's 2000-2001; so I can not help but do a pre/post Katrina comparison. The difference is felt before it is seen. There isn't the same bustling hustling energy here anymore. In fact, for any urban area it seems sedate. It is estimated that NOLA is about 40% of pre-Katrina population. In most cities, infrastructure supports people. Here, now, the people are not present to support the infrastructure, thus slowing the rebuilding process.
In fact, if you get out of the French Quarter, it looks like the hurricane happened last month not last year. The Lower Ninth ward is heart breaking. The whole city was hit, and all are hurting. However, in most areas recovery, though slow, is happening. In the Lower Ninth, that isn't the case. With extremely few exceptions, the people of the Lower Ninth just don't have the resources to rebuild. It is enough to make one feel hopeless.
However, there is hope in NOLA! It comes from the music. That, of course, sounds cheesy, but allow me to elaborate. The music of New Orleans is not prepackaged snack food music like most sounds you here on MTV or the radio today. The music here is instrinsicly related to the expresion of deep emotions that prose just can't support, sometimes even words can not support. At the very least it takes a poem, but more likely it takes a jazz solo, a dance, or a combination. In NOLA they have a tradition called a Second Line. It is a funeral procession where a brass band leads the coffin and a host of folks to and from the burial site. On the journey toward the resting place a dirge, slow mornful music, is played. The people cry, mourn, wail, and grieve publicly. However, on the way back, the music is joyful and the dancing begins. In the Second Line, both reality and hope are publicly processed. It is the strong symbol of the Second Line that will allow the people of New Orleans to grieve and to hope, to suffer and heal.
Unfortunately most of our culture is being reduced to snack food. We are better at denial then grief. We lack the strong symbols to publily process pain and therefore make space for hope. Not so in NOLA. Here they lay it out for all to see, and we would do well to watch.