The French Quarter looked as I recalled it -- the floodwaters of August 2005 did not devastate it nearly as they did so much else in New Orleans. It was louder than I remembered -- hip hop and rap are part of the scene now, of course, and they require a level of volume jazz does not. Their percussion pounds from the open doorways and rattles the closed windows of passing cars, inside which the noise must be something not to be believed. But all this is to be expected: the Quarter has never been a spot for quiet contemplation.
"Don't let them put you upstairs at Galatoire's," my friend had warned me. "Sit downstairs. And see if you can get John to wait on you."
The Saints were playing in San Francisco, so most of the city's residents were home in front of their televisions -- I had been cautioned to be sure and finish my last retreat talk that afternoon no later than 2:30, so everyone could get home in time to watch the game. It was still going on by evening, so there was no line at Galatoire's. The maitre'd seemed glad to see us.
"Is there a waiter here named John?" I asked as he seated me.
"Yes, John's here. Would you like him to wait on you?"
"Sure," I said, "that would be super."
We were in John's capable hands, then, though I don't imagine there are any other kinds of hands at Galatoire's. If there are, they are not in the kitchen, from which food glorious beyond description issues steadily forth into the dining room, to vanish down the gullets of happy diners. Not even the beloved team's loss in the final minute of faraway play dented the delight for more than a minute or two, though our hosts assured us that the resumption of laughter in the restaurant was only a temporary bravery, that the heartbreak of this defeat would inaugurate a citywide funk that would surely last until Mardi Gras arrived to put it out of people's minds.
They did seem to be taking it well. The staff hastened to lead us in the choral celebration of two birthdays, one for an 18-year-old girl who squealed with delight and the other for an old lady who endured it with patience. Nobody here seems much suited to a life of melancholy. New Orleans is eminently distractible. People don't want to be unhappy. They are eager to move beyond unpleasantness.
But I notice that most conversations don't go on too long without some mention of the storm and its dreadful aftermath. The FEMA trailer they lived in. The temporary sojourn with family in another state. The reduced operating budget. The changed route to work. The aged mother who died just before Katrina -- thank God, her daughter added, almost to herself. They are like we were in New York after 9/11 -- the shock is never very far away. Some live in different houses now, some in different neighborhoods with different neighbors. Many left for a time and then came back. Some people's grown children never came back to live. Many lost everything they had.
How are you doing, your friend asks, and you answer that you are fine. And you are fine. But history is never erased, not from the record of life here on earth and not from the generous mystery of the alsolife that encompasses this one, either. The risen Christ was recognizable as Jesus the crucified because he still bore his scars. We do, too. What happened, happened. We may no longer live in its grip, but neither will we ever again live in innocence of it. Now it is part of how we know ourselves-- by our scars.
This Wednesday, January 18th Trinity Institute Presents: Wall Street Dialogues
1:05pm - 1:55pm • Trinity Church, corner of Broadway and Wall Street
Presenters: Barbara Crafton, priest and author, & Carol Stone, business economist
This series features conversations on the moral and ethical issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Barbara Crafton, priest and author, and Carol Stone, business economist, www.geraniumfarm.org, ask the question: "Would Jesus pay taxes?" as they discuss “Paying Taxes: Privilege or Confiscation?”
This program will be webcast live and on-demand. Visit www.trinitywallstreet.org.