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.
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
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.