T he sun has appeared in the east and the house is quiet. The group staying in the neighboring house has finally gone to bed after pulling an all-nighter on their back porch. Sunday morning in the Big Easy.

Surrounded by 12 foot ceilings, exposed brick fireplaces, and an eclectic collection of art on the walls, I find myself considering the history of the 18th century mansion in which we’re staying and the curious mix of life we’ve seen in our first 24 hours in this neighborhood of New Orleans known as Treme-Laffite. For this midwesterner, New Orleans evokes mixed emotions of repulsion and attraction with its contrasts: blatant abundance and poverty, beautiful art amid ugliness, stunning architecture that has been cherished or abandoned, and a persistent buzz that is both threatening and welcoming. It’s a questionable place for a family vacation yet also perfectly sensible for our group with ages spanning 11 months to 80 years.

I awoke this morning with a poem on my mind: If by Rudyard Kipling. In many ways, the classic poem seems appropriate for this city and its residents who have been battered by hurricanes, crime, and the persistent challenge of infrastructure issues in a city that is literally sinking. Complete recovery from deadly hurricane Katrina in 2005 still seems elusive for much of this city. Kipling’s poem is about overcoming adversity and doubt. Though an English author and poet from the late 1800’s may not seem directly relevant to New Orleans’ Creole/African/American culture, his words seem to fit.

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

  – Rudyard Kipling

Today, we’ll go out into this vibrant city and seek it’s more compelling attributes: food, music, art, and culture – beginning this morning with Mass at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis in the heart of the city. In the process, I’m sure we’ll rub up against some of New Orleans’ rough edges while finding the curious polish of time and tragedy reflected in her people and culture. Perhaps the City’s resilience will serve as a reminder to find joy in the moment but not forget the long game; a point where today’s challenges fade in the context of bigger aims and broader legacy.


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