The Katrina anniversary is upon us. And so it begins. The local newspapers and television stations have begun their coverage, and, I suppose for a brief period of time, the rest of the country will focus on us briefly at some point this week. Some will give us no more than a passing thought, some will wish us well—unfortunately, the vast majority will still not realize that Katrina was a man-made disaster in New Orleans, caused not because we’re stupid enough to live below sea level and got what was coming to us, but because the levee system that the Corps promised would hold did not. And, sadly, there will still be some mean-spirited people who will feel the need to post their scorn of New Orleans and its citizens on numerous websites, for some reason feeling better about themselves and secure in their superiority. It’s been like this for a while and I’m sure it will continue to be for years to come.
For me, August 26th is the day that the anniversary really starts to have an effect on me, as today is the day that the altering of our lives was put into motion. In my head, I've started calling it the Day of Lasts. It’s often struck me throughout life—I suppose even more so since I've had a child—about how many “lasts” we experience. There are the ones that you know are the lasts, like the last night your child sleeps in a crib before you move her into her “big girl” bed, the last time you drive a car before you trade it in, your last day at a job. But I guess I've spent a lot of time thinking about the “lasts” that you don’t know about at the time. There are so many unimportant lasts in our day-to-day living. And then there are the big ones—the last time you see your grandmother before she passes away, the last time you actually pick up your daughter in your arms before she gets too big for that, the last time that you talk to a friend with whom you've slowly been losing touch. I've always found the big lasts that we don’t know about at the time to be rather heartbreaking, in hindsight.
August 26th was a day of lasts that I didn't know about at the time on a grand scale. I don’t need to detail all of them again—you can read about them here. But for a long time coming, I think August 26th will be an especially poignant day for me; it was the last day that our family, our friends, our neighbors, our city, and our region would feel normal for days and years to come. It was the last day that we got to go about our everyday lives, not knowing about the storm that had decided to re-organize in the Gulf. It was a Friday, and the majority of us were content in the knowledge that we’d have a nice weekend and then go back to our jobs and our schools and our lives on Monday morning.
You all know the story by now. Instead, on that Monday morning, we sat in living rooms or hotel rooms or shelters scattered around the country and watched Katrina come to shore. We watched the footage of houses on the Mississippi Gulf Coast reduced to splinters from Katrina’s surge, and we watched the streets of New Orleans fill with water when the levees broke.
And we didn't know it on that Friday, but by that Monday we knew--some of us had experienced the last time we would ever see a certain loved one, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a pet. We had experienced the last time we'd sit in our own living rooms. We had experienced the last time we'd sleep in our own beds. We had experienced the last time we'd be able to work in a particular office, shop in a particular store, or eat in a particular restaurant. Because that's when it started sinking in that it was all gone.
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking about two years ago today and what’s been lost since that time. A Day of Lasts.