Six years ago, I was living in northern Kentucky. Six years ago, I was about twenty years out of high school and about twenty years out of Louisiana. Six years ago time and space began to disappear into the mystic.
Five and a half years ago I had almost completely shut down. Shut down at the seminary where I was studying; shut down at the church I was serving; shut down at home.
I realized that from the time Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and during the five to six months that followed – even though I was way up north between Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio – I was caught in some transcendent lasso which was pulling me back to my high school. Back to Destrehan, Louisiana.
I couldn’t stop thinking about school experiences (the great ones, the good ones, and the awful ones). I couldn’t stop thinking about teachers, classes, specific lessons, band events and practices, and specific people. My body was in Henry County, Kentucky, but I was walking along the roads in Destrehan; I was walking along the levee and looking out over the mighty Mississippi River. I could smell the river, the food, the sweaty gym locker room at school, the sanctuary at the First Baptist Church of Norco, and all the scents in my own house on Ormond Oaks.
Repeatedly, my dreams at night were about Destrehan. High school friends from the early/mid 1980s were mixed together with my seminary studies, with my church, and with my family. It was like time ceased to exist and everything and everybody were all stirred in together in one big kettle of some sort of Jungian jambalaya.
I obsessively began seeking to locate and reconnect with old neighbors and friends, and to establish more frequent contact with the few friends with whom I never lost touch. Thank you letters were sent to a handful of teachers who were tremendously influential in my life; teachers like Mrs. Chaisson and Mr. Greene – whom I hadn’t seen nor talked to since I walked across the graduation stage – were thanked for their determination to teach me something, even though I didn’t always want to learn.
Tears were ever-present in the corners of my eyes; my eyelids were levees fighting to hold back a great flood of emotions.
I clearly remember asking, “God, why am I like this? Why the obsession with who I was and where I was over twenty years ago? Why can’t I focus on where I am today and who I am today and what I should be doing today?”
The late Trappist monk Thomas Merton writes about trying to be still to let God do some work in one’s self. Maybe this was God doing some work in me …
I was disconnected with my past. It was as if I had lived two lives – the first eighteen years in Louisiana (up through high school), and then everything since 1986 when my family moved to Tennessee, and I went off to college, got married, had kids, etc.
Maybe God was making whole this divided, schizophrenic self.
What I do know is that since Katrina, I have never felt more connected to New Orleans, to the River Parishes, and to Louisiana; and thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with so many people who were very important to me in my younger days, and who directly shaped who I am today.
It’s been six years since Hurricane Katrina. Time and space have long since reemerged into the very real present. And thanks be to God, my reality is no longer divided into unconnected pieces, but all stirred together into a whole, healthy body of gumbo.