By David E. Crosby, Pastor
First Baptist New Orleans
The cancelations are rolling in. Formal Katrina remembrances are being replaced by an unstoppable barrage of unwanted, terrifying memories. Productive work is now on hold. All eyes are on the Gulf of Mexico and the unseeing, unfeeling specter of Hurricane Gustav.
He has me churning already. His powerful winds and deadly aim at New Orleans are dredging up suppressed memories of midnight runs, stranded plans, and emotional partings.
An emergency meeting to batten down the hatches turned into a torrent of tormented remembrances. Pets are a problem. The elderly need help. Temporary office accommodations are available in Montgomery, Alabama.
The post-Katrina newcomers are staring at me, maybe a little mystified. I am waving my arms too much. My voice is strained, and my animation seems bigger than the situation calls for.
Someone voices the “no evacuation” sentiment. A Katrina survivor who fished his loved ones out of the flood jumps back in his chair, shaking his head violently. “No, sir! I’m not staying.” No one knows how to escape this gaping fissure running through our collective lives.
Lunch is now the hour of dark speculation and ominous prediction. “If we flood again, that’s the end for New Orleans. No one will come to help us.”
Everything in me resists. I don’t want to do this, not even think this.
But my mind steals inexorably to the edge of the cliff. I peer into a murky, imagined future where New Orleans has become the modern Atlantis after Gustav completes a deadly one-two punch.
Close the shutters again. Find the power drill and long screws. Cover the windows. Load the files. Fill the gas tanks. Remember how we missed the tools and computers last time. We know this routine.
Move the valuables to the second floor. Clean out the freezer. Take-what? Am I preparing for a three-day vacation or three weeks of waiting for the bowl to finally empty?
I am screaming inside-and shaking. My worst nightmare comes at me hour by hour from every quarter in vivid color with all the numbers perpetually displayed: 75 mph sustained winds, 4 mph WNW. These spinning currents are peeling off the scabs and breaking open the unhealed wounds of Katrina’s beating.
My usual “tropical storm confusion” about when to say what to whom is compounded by an unshakable sense of doom gripping the back of my neck. I don’t want to go there. How do I stop myself? What will this storm cost me? Everything?
Our levees seem so formidable when I push my bicycle to their crest. But they shrink to tiny scratches in the sand when viewed from these thunderheads. I feel panic. Did the Corps of Engineers fix those weak spots along the Industrial Canal? What about the MRGO?
My brother’s bedrooms are full, and our son has too much on his plate. We will evacuate to Texas, my wife has decided, so she can tend to her aging father for a few days. How many days, I wonder.
Someone is singing. My heart slows down. I cannot live in this emotional quicksand. My refuge in this storm of memories is a firm faith anchored somewhere beyond government, nature, and science.
I wrench my mind back to all the familiar faces, people that I love. Here lie the real values of my life. These I can protect. My possessions may be looted, soaked or mildewed, but if my loved ones are safe, I have scarcely lost a thing. This, too, I learned from Katrina.
Back to the task at hand. Make sure we have a good plan when the Mayor blows his horn. And this time we get on the correct side of the contraflow so we can actually go to Texas.
David E. Crosby