Standing on the edge of the water the past few months has caused me some great reflection. As my toe touches the sand, now dotted with black specs, no doubt remnants of the oil disaster, I can’t help but feel lucky; blessed.
Blessed you say? Blessed for what? The brackish water, the industry falling apart, the tourism detracting?
Because if you don’t live here you don’t see. You don’t know. You can’t feel.
And that’s it, isn’t it? You can’t feel what we feel.
You can’t know what it feels like to wake up and smell the salt, to feel the wind whipping in your hair as you drive over a bridge, only to be greeted by so much never ending water that it must have been supplied by God.
You can’t know what it feels like to have a stranger, someone who is standing over their own pile of rubble, grab your hand and tell you its going to be alright.
And it will be.
For the beauty that I have spent my entire life witnessing can only be rivaled by the camaraderie and community I have been privileged to be a part of.
When I was 16 I lost my house.
Or rather, my father lost his home, and I lost my room. But in that room, the room that I had lived years in, the room that had born my first days of middle school and high school, that housed my first love notes from a boy, 100 Sweet Valley High books, the diary that would never be written again, I was sure, in my teenage mind, I had lost my identity.
I was wrong.
What I found was far more valuable.
When all that is left behind are concrete walls; Hope Persists.
(my home, Hurricane Opal, 1996)
When your pets, after 3 weeks of praying and searching and falling on your knees in desperation…..Oh God, Where are they, Don’t take them from me….run to your arms from the rubble; Hope Solidifies.
When some of your longest standing friendships come simply from helping a stranger; Hope Evolves.
When a 16 year old boy grabs a shovel and digs in the ground to help you find anything, everything, that is a remnant of your life and he becomes your husband 7 years later; Hope Blooms.
And it’s not about the victimization of Katrina, or Opal, or Bonnie, or Ivan. It’s not about what we we lost. Rather, it’s about what remains.
Hope, I said. Not cry. Not whine. Not point out devastation. Not look longingly at the past.
For we only have one bad day, and albeit a very very bad day, out of every seven hundred breathtakingly beautiful ones.
We look towards the future.
Keep in mind that disasters are not just located on the Gulf, they are everywhere and can strike without warning. They are the floods in Tennessee, the earthquakes in California, the Tornadoes in Oklahoma.
So ask me why I stay?
Why, when every part of my life from youth to adulthood has been so profoundly affected by the Gulf, its hurricanes, its disasters and it’s grief, would I ever want to stay?
I say this to you.
We may be Cajun in Louisiana and Redneck in Alabama and Cowboys in Texas and Old in Florida- we know what you say.
More than that, more than the cover on our book, the Gulf Coast is the absolute embodiment of culture. We are neighbors where state lines know no boundaries, where craw-fish boils are monthly festivals and sweet tea is on the menu. We have our own language and we reckon y’all can’t translate it. Street performers are the norm, top rated colleges (and their rivalries) are in every home, and our blood isn’t red, it’s Crimson.
We are #TexasStrong and #FloridaStrong and #AlabamaStrong and #LousianaStrong.
Simply put, we live where you vacation.
We are proud. We will rebuild. We will have Hope.