The sheer amount of renditions of “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” never ceases to amaze me. My personal favorite is Satchmo’s raspy live version, but the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s somber version will break your heart. Billie Holliday, Harry Connick, Jr., Fats Domino, Pete Fountain: They’ve all got their own unique takes, but the question is always the same: Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
I’m thinking of these songs today because they’re dotting my Facebook news feed. Eight years ago, my family was forced to move from the New Orleans suburb Metairie to Houston for a little more than half a year. During that time, we fixed that giant hole in our home’s roof and pulled a tree out from between the dentist-chair-like seats of my poor, now deceased ’97 Buick LeSabre.
And we were lucky. Among the luckiest. So lucky, I feel like a bit fraud-like writing anything about Her.
Today marks eight years since Hurricane Katrina, and each year the media fanfare shrinks a bit. This isn’t a bad thing: we don’t need CNN to remind us of Her. And unsurprisingly, the news that I have stumbled across doesn’t include any beautiful rendition of that beloved song. Instead, the USA Today ties the storm in with the March on Washington. Factank also invoked the march to discuss the racial disparity in the government’s response. The city’s leading news website nola.com ran a then-and-now statistical analysis of the city.
(WATCH: 10 Years of Weather in 3 Minutes)
Things you’ll learn from reading any of these: more than 1,500 people died in the storm (the exact number seems to change from story to story); the Army Corps of Engineers failed the city; local, state and federal government failed the city; humanity’s sick penchant for racism failed the city; ______________ failed the city.
It’s been eight years, and while the city still heals, you won’t generally read about who is nursing it back to health. Credit, of course, belongs in part to the resilience of its residents, proud tenets of the self-proclaimed Who Dat Nation. It also belongs to the kindness, generosity and entrepreneurial spirit of the rest of America.
Because while government institutions were failing at every possible level in every conceivable way and generally acting like a bunch of children caught red-handed with their hands in the cookie jar and no exit strategy, ordinary folks from around the country were taking unpaid leave from work, skipping a week or two of school, giving up the easy semblance of a normal life to spend a few days in the blistering indescribably muggy waterlogged world of America’s new Atlantis.
But you won’t read about these people today.
You won’t read about how New Orleans Habitat for Humanity, a volunteer-based organization, has built 500 new homes and gutted 2,400, while creating more than 3,400 jobs. Or how The Greater Boston Food Bank offered 46 million meals to the Gulf area or how Drago’s, a local family-owned restaurant (that makes the best charbroiled oysters you’ll ever eat) gave out more than 70,000 free meals to anyone who needed them.
You might hear how New Orleans is now the only major city without a daily newspaper, but you won’t hear about The Lens, the area’s first non-profit newsroom bent on providing the in-depth stories lost along with the daily paper.
You’ll probably hear about BP pumping oil into our waters, but you won’t hear about the many tech entrepreneurs who ignored the lure of Austin or Silicon Valley to set up shop in New Orleans, or about the Stanford grad who gambled by starting a non-profit incubator (with which, full disclosure, I am proudly involved).
Yes, the government failed New Orleans. Yes, what little news you’ll see about Katrina today will likely focus on that fact.
But people from around this country rebuilt it. Bare hands and all.
Even those who didn’t spend their childhood feeding the ducks in Audubon Park, their teenage years trying out Bourbon Street and their adult lives watching streetcars ambling lazily down St. Charles Avenue knew what it might mean for America to truly miss New Orleans.
And so, together, we rebuilt it.