Friday, March 18, 2011

In the Moment

Matt and I spent the weekend in New Orleans, that colorful city where he was born.

Before we began dating one another, almost four years ago now, I had never been to Louisiana. I didn’t know the difference between Cajun and Creole, between a muffuletta and a po’boy. I had never heard the phrase “Pass a good time.”

But we’ve been down to visit his family a healthy handful of times now. I’ve eaten beignets in the French Quarter, listened to music in the Marigny, and wandered among the beautiful houses in the Garden District. We’ve gone running along the levee, which snakes beside the mighty Mississippi, and watched the process of rebuilding in the lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. We’ve been there for Mardi Gras and for Jazz fest. There have been pots of gumbo, bowls of jambalaya and etouffee, and crawfish eaten by hand.  And each time I visit, I’m struck by the mood of the city and the attitude of those who live there. It’s different than where I’m from, that’s for sure.

In Nine Lives, a wonderful book about New Orleans that spans the 40 years from Hurricane Betsy to Katrina, Dan Baum writes:

While the rest of Americans famously dream and scheme and chase the horizon, New Orleanians are masters at the lost art of living in the moment. If we’re doing okay this minute, goes the logic—enjoying one another’s company, keeping cool, and maybe having something good to eat—of what earthly importance is tomorrow or next week? Given the fragility of life, why even count on getting there? New Orleanians are notoriously late showing up, if they show up at all, because by and large they don’t keep calendars. Calendars are tools for managing the future, and in New Orleans the future doesn’t exist.

Of course I don’t know New Orleans—not like a native or anyone who has lived there full time—but there’s something about the city, something that pulls me in, that begs me to peel back its layers of culture and celebration as well as its destruction and pain. It’s a hard city and a fabulous one. I love it there.

We took the trip this past weekend for a happy event: Matt’s sister, Cara, was married. The wedding was a beautiful ceremony in the cavernous, echoing church in the French Quarter followed by a hopping reception in City Park, complete with sparkling umbrellas and a second line around the dance floor. Matt can certainly cut a rug.

But this weekend was not all about parties and fun. The entire time we were in New Orleans I was glued to the news of Japan. The earthquake and tsunami, the resulting destruction, loss of life, and threat of nuclear disaster. It was a strange juxtaposition of celebration and terror, one that I’m still not sure how to process. My heart goes out to those suffering in Japan—not to mention those in Egypt, in Libya, in Bahrain, in every country where social upheaval, poverty, and natural disaster are taking their toll on the every day. Here are some places where we can help.

And all the while, I’ve been thinking about something that Ruth Reichl wrote on her blog last week:

There is no time, ever, in which a terrible disaster is not taking place somewhere on the planet.  And thanks to modern technology, we know all about it almost immediately. As I see it, we have a moral responsibility to respond to those disasters in the best ways that we can. Write letters, send money, do whatever possible to alleviate pain, end suffering and make the world a more just place.

But in the face of ongoing disaster, it is also our moral responsibility to appreciate what we have.  That is why cooking good food for the people that I love is so important to me; in a world filled with no, it is a big yes.

So eat a good breakfast. Be grateful for what you’ve got. Enjoy the sunshine while you've got it.  Then go out and save the world.

She wrote these words on Friday in response to online criticism received over a tweet she wrote during the tsunami —“Basking in sunshine. Gently fried eggs, soft golden yolks. Bright salsa: chiles, onions, tomatoes. Black beans. Warm tortillas. So fine.”

There have been mixed reactions to her tweet, and to her response. I reflected on her words as I watched the events unfolding in Japan while celebrating Cara’s wedding. They resonated with me strongly there in New Orleans, a city that has been destroyed several times by its own disasters and continues to recover, a place that truly understands the fragility of life and the beauty of the moment. In New Orleans, as Dan Baum said, the future doesn’t exist. Sitting there in that church, dancing there with Matt, remembering how lucky I am, I took some comfort in that notion. There wasn’t much else I could do.

1 comment:

Molly said...

Whatever I am doing during my day, I find myself taking a moment every few hours to just sit and think about Japan. There is nothing in my life, nor has there been, that compares with the pain the island nation is suffering through. Thank you for such a thoughtful post.