Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Friday, the rain wouldn't stop as I drove down Highway 49 South. I wondered where the sunshine or a rainbow was. "Stories about hope and inspiration always have sunshine and rainbows," I said to myself, as I headed toward the Mississippi Gulf Coast. That's what I was looking for.
Sometimes I have an idea of the story I'd like to tell before anything actually happens. I don't know if this is common or one of my personal idiosyncrasies. I know the stories I'd like to tell about the time I got engaged, when I bought my first house, the list goes on. While it challenges my creativity, and it's entertaining to watch things play out in the theater of my mind, issues arise when reality doesn't match the story I'd like to recount. Such was my time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in New Orleans this past weekend.
Several weeks ago, I'd been asked to sing at a Hurricane Katrina memorial service on the Coast, so I decided to make a weekend of it. Not long after accepting the invitation, I imagined the narrative I was probably going to see play out--the sense of hopefulness and feelings of resilience permeating the air. I thought the sky would be a pale blue, with the exception of the white, fluffy clouds that decorated it. I fathomed stories of loss and destruction that ended with an abundance of peace. That's what I hoped for and those were the tales I expected to come back with, but it's not exactly what I got.
Because the rain wouldn't stop coming, for a while I thought I wouldn't make it to New Orleans. One of the things I wanted to see was the neighborhood Brad Pitt is building in the Lower Ninth Ward. The pictures I'd seen in Architectural Digest were beautiful, and I wanted to see it with my own eyes. But my friend, a Mississippi Gulf Coast native, and I weren't able to head over from the Coast to New Orleans until late afternoon when the rain let up a bit.
Just after we hit Interstate 10, the heavens relieved themselves again and poured more rain on us. We decided since we'd left, we'd go on, even if it meant not having the chance to walk around in the neighborhood or the French Quarter a bit, as we'd planned.
While we drove, my friend talked about the two types of people he most often meets since Hurricane Katrina. Those who helped during the time of devastation five years ago tell similar tales, he says, of inspiration and passion they tapped into or stopped ignoring following Katrina's destructive path along the Coast to help with recovery efforts.
"You hear people say, 'When I volunteered after Katrina, it gave me the courage to ...,'" he said.
"But a lot of the people who are from down here," he continued, "it's their excuse for everything. 'I would've gone to college, but Katrina came ...' and 'I would've bought a house by now, but after Katrina came I ...'"
I wasn't looking for a story from a Coast native who said the storm victimized people, and now they're still content to blame their lack of forward movement on the storm. There are exceptions to his rule, I'm sure. And I know there are people who probably would have done more for themselves by now had the storm not interrupted their plans. I was disappointed by my friend's words and the narrative about hope his words had not given me.
In Gulfport, the few people I saw out before we left for New Orleans seemed to be going about their lives like normal. I expected to feel a sense of community on the fifth anniversary of the storm, but I saw, instead, people darting in and out of the outlet mall, avoiding being soaked. It all seemed so ordinary.
"You think people aren't out because they're home spending time with their families, remembering this time five years ago?" I asked my friend.
"Or maybe because it's raining so much," he responded.
As we drove, I thought "reframe." In a former life, when I was working on a master's in marriage and family therapy, reframing was one of the concepts I loved in a class about neuro-linguistic programming.
Reframing, at its most basic, is taking a situation or context and seeing it in a different light--putting it in a different frame. It's all about who you are and the experiences you bring to the table with you that shape how you perceive things. And the beauty about the human condition is that we can change our perception and, therefore, change our realities. It's all about the frame.
One of the things I've been working on for the past couple months is learning to be in love with my life. Another friend and I have different opinions about the possibility. He believes I'm naive and that life has too many variables and uncontrollables for one to be in love with his life. I believe while those things are true, it has little to do with how you choose to see your life and circumstances.
It's only when we take responsibility for ourselves and our lives that we can begin to live fully. This is what, I believe, distinguishes a person who lives their life from a person who life happens to.
We all experience periods in our lives where we just don't want to do it. We don't want to try. We don't want to believe. It's human. But we also, at some point, have to decide that we will. We will create for ourselves the lives we want to love, and if we fall short, at least we had lives we really liked.
It's not about having a perfect life. In a perfect life, Katrina wouldn't have hit; we wouldn't have to mourn the loss of loved ones; we wouldn't have to look for new jobs because we were laid off from the old ones; and I would have made it to Brad Pitt's neighborhood before nightfall. But it's about embracing what life throws at you and finding the best way to manage the setback.
Few people I know have difficulties accepting blessings life throws them, so why not find ways to fashion blessings out of barriers?
Sitting in the memorial service, the pastor asked that the congregation repeat the chorus "To you, God, we give thanks and praise," as she read from index cards the various things congregants were thankful for since the storm: restoration, volunteers, safety, financial donations, provisions; the list was a long one.
Those congregants found hope and inspiration, and they found more love. They reframed, and you don't have to have experienced a hurricane to do that.