How Desolate the City

How Desolate the City February 25, 2006

The city of chaos is broken down, every house is shut up so that no one can enter; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished. Desolation is left in the city, the gates are battered into ruins. (from Isaiah 24)

I have done my share of grieving, believe me. Hours of watching horrifying news coverage, reading tragedy in the newspapers, hearing sobbing voices of friends over barely-acquired telephone access . . . this was the tenor and make-up of the whole fall as we watched from afar the devastation and chaos of Katrina in our former home town of New Orleans.

So when I set out yesterday to head back for the first time since the hurricane I felt pretty confident that a spirit of optimism would carry me through the first Mardi Gras after Katrina.

To say I was not prepared for the devastation here is a rather significant understatement. It started about halfway through the flight to New Orleans, when the man sitting next to me began recounting all he had lost, talking about the ongoing discovery of bodies and the practicalities of living in a city with little working infrastructure. My stomach began to clench as I listened and a feeling of dread started creeping up on me.

I wasn’t ready for what I’ve found.

Six entire months after Katrina the city looks like a war zone. There is trash everywhere; abandoned houses; barely any business open. Neighborhoods are a sea of blue tarps pretending to be roofs. Stoplights don’t work . . . they sit on corners dark. At night there’s an eerie darkness that covers everything like a thick blanket; no one is home. There is a constant sound of crows, loud and cawing, the kind of crows that stalk road kill.

And the material trappings of our former life? Total devastation. Here are some pictures of the first house we lived in after we moved to New Orleans in 1996. The water rose above the roof; the whole house is destroyed. The house sits empty and abandoned, windows gone, completely stripped inside. The roof has been blown off the back of the house and the little backyard where my babies toddled around in their splash pool is destroyed.

As I drive around barely able to take in the current sight of what I used to know the words of the prophet Isaiah’s lament for Jerusalem kept running through my head . . . how desolate the city! How desolate the city!
I think I might know now a little of how he felt as he cried.

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