If there is a word for what has happened in New Orleans – and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast – during the last 10 days or so, only God knows it.
If there is a word for what has happened in New
Orleans – and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast – during the last 10 days
or so, only God knows it.
It does not exist in human language.
“Catastrophe.” “Nightmare.” “The perfect storm.” None of them fit. None even come close.
There have been other hurricanes. There have been
downed trees and powerlines, collapsed buildings and shattered windows,
But not like this.
Even for lifetime South Louisiana natives, this is something on another scale.
And there simply are no words.
The trees can be cut, the power lines replaced, the
buildings and windows restored. Even the flooding can recede and its
evidence be erased.
But how does one describe the human cost?
What word is there for the cries of those in the dark who were trapped and hungry and thirsty and hopeless?
What word is there for the suffering children?
What word is there for those who waited – and wait still perhaps – unsure if they still had a home?
What word is there for those who need not wait, who
know their home – and job and neighborhood and life-as-they-knew-it –
What word is there for those who know something even
more precious is gone – a mother, father, son, daughter, sister,
I am a New Orleans native. Like others, I have watched the deterioration of my city.
A lot of friends I know lost a large part of their
lives last week. A lot of friends I had not had the chance to meet died
last week – and there are no words to express what that means.
As so often before, I turn to the Psalms.
It is the cries of the desperate that speak first.
“Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping.” (Psalm 39:12a)
“Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your
love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your
servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.” (Psalm 69:16-17
But there is comfort to be found as well – in familiar passages still full of unexplainable peace.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present
help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters
roar and foam, and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1)
It is the comfort of Habakkuk, who sees the
destruction around him and cries out to God for answers. In the end,
faith is the only answer given, faith even in the midst of unknowable
So, it is that even in the midst of faith, there is
hurt, a hurt dammed behind a levee of its own that threatens to break.
When it does, the tears flow – and the tears themselves somehow become
the words that fail elsewhere.
The tears carry the weight of the prayers.
Yes, life will go on; yes, people will respond – and
are responding – in heroic fashion; and yes, the city will rebuild in
some form or fashion.
But there will be no erasing the evidence of these
days, of the horror that played itself out in full color like a
That will remain.
Indeed, on some day, somewhere, a woman will approach and introduce herself.
“I’m Katrina,” she will say and smile, extending a hand of greeting.
And I will take it, offering a timid smile of my
own, hoping against all hope that somehow she did not see me wince at