Thank You, New Orleans: A Tale of an American City

Dear New Orleans,

I had dreamed about you since I was fourteen—I imagined what you would be like, and saw pictures of myself basking in a glow that seemed so lovely and warm. My friends told me I was crazy, and that you’re full of more bad than good, but I always had a feeling that I had to find my own truth about you.  

I actually came to visit you at last—or you came into my life—under unexpected circumstances. I was seventeen, ecstatic to write my own story in the pages of what I had known of you, but simultaneously, I was pretty lost in life at that point. The realization hit me that I’d be seeing you without my parents by my side, which was new, but more importantly, it was the first time in my life where I started to think of myself as an adult, from a girl to a woman. It became the dividing line of who I once was, to who I could be with some internal exploration. 

Last week was the two-year mark since I’ve seen you. And, I have to be honest, I still think about you. I miss you quite dearly, a little more every day. 

The weather outside during my stay was consistently gray and misty, not particularly enlightening nor detrimental, but a vast contrast to the two feet of snow that had blanketed Seattle earlier that week. Each day, I would leave a white house with high ceilings and tall columns off of Esplanade Avenue, and spent hours seeing the touristy things like City Park, the French Quarter, the riverboats, and what the vast internet told me you were popularly remembered for (all true and fair points.) They reassured my suspicion that Louisiana and Washington were definitely not sister states, but more like distant cousins who didn’t have very much in common. 

As more time has gone by since then, and I think about what’s next for me, I’ve been considering what it’d be like to really become a part of you for more than a few days at a time. I ponder what it would really mean to truly engage with you and start something new in my life with you surrounding me.

To make a more realistic sense of that curiosity, I’ve recently read a lot of articles, memoirs, and have seen the photos that capture the firsthand accounts of Hurricane Katrina for New Orleans residents, as well as the incomplete aftermath that left thousands shattered. I’m learning about what really happened on August 29th, 2005, which has proved that unlike what I had briefly learned in school, the storm wasn’t just a fascinating phenomenon of mother nature that struck at the wrong place and the wrong time, but was the result from a failure of human engineering that led to mass destruction. As I try to learn from the before and after, I’m stuck wondering if even though the construction of the city was destroyed and rebuilt after Katrina, if some things have stayed the same. I wonder to myself; will New Orleans ever return to what it was before? Or, rather, is that the beauty of the city? Maybe it’s not a place that will ever be restored to its previous glory days. Maybe the real spirit of it is not within the scenery, but the people and their pure emotional substance. 

I had the opportunity to walk down your streets for less than a week, and it’d be generous to say I saw even five percent of what you have to offer. But in that time, I gained one thing above all others—a new perspective. You brought me compassion. You brought me hope. You brought me the beauty of humankind, despite challenges endured before, a beauty I had never seen before in my life. In a way, I fell in love not just with New Orleans, but also in it. 

So now, I wonder what life would be like if I came to you with a specific purpose. The next time I see you, I want to have meaningful intentions. Maybe I can help people. Maybe I can educate. Maybe my progress starts up slow, but becomes grounded and branches in unpredictable yet unifying ways, like Spanish moss draping down from your magnificent oak trees. 

Most importantly, whatever I end up giving to your community, I need to go into it with an equal devotion to listen in the space I am entering. I need to listen to your people, your streets, your stories from the years past, and the possibilities of what’s ahead with open ears. I’ll need to absorb who you are, your essence, and take those to heart.

Someday, the start of that journey will come. Until then, I’ll listen to my favorite songs that remind me of you, I’ll remember you by the plane ticket that I taped to my wall, and the best I can say is thank you. I'll dream about seeing you again as if it was for the very first time.