If you had asked me five years ago where I would be today, New Orleans would not have been on my list of possibilities. That's because five years ago today the room that I'm sitting in was underwater.
I loved New Orleans growing up. We came here as a family when I was in high school and I made another trip here with friends in college before Katrina happened. I remember being enthralled with the city's French background because I was learning to speak French at the time. I remember loving the music and wishing I could play clarinet like that woman in the street. I remember getting recruited to my school early on by missionaries who got their degrees here and my dad who thought it would be cool to have a daughter who lived in New Orleans. My thoughts were "Sure, if I end up doing the God thing I'll definitely think about it." I also remember looking at my college roommate the day we found out the city flooded and saying "I guess I'm not going to school there after all."
I'm ashamed to say that I did not help to rebuild New Orleans. I didn't help to rebuild a home or work with disaster relief. Instead, I tried my best to ignore New Orleans. I didn't want to see one of my favorite cities in such a bad state. It worked for a few years. Then, God had something to say about it, as he often does.
The fifth anniversary of Katrina went by relatively quietly in my world. I got up and went to church where no mention of the hurricane was made. I went to work where none of my customers said one word about it. The only time it crossed my path was while reading the Sunday edition of the Times-Picayune. It talked about the unsolved murders that took place around the time of Katrina and how the city's civil system fell apart. It also talked about the state of the city today.
If I had to choose a word to describe New Orleans now, it would have to be 'hopeful.' The city is rebuilding. Five years later, people are still returning. The population is reaching pre-Katrina levels in all areas of the city expect for the Lower 9th (but I wouldn't want to live in an area without a police substation or nearby hospital either). Tourists are coming back in greater numbers each year. New Orleans now has a better education system, a better levee system, and a Superbowl trophy won by a team that was as down-and-out as the city they call home.
The pictures that have been playing on the news are not New Orleans anymore. They are important reminders that help those who lived through Katrina grieve and remember. But that was the past. It's time for the future. There is still rebuilding to be done, and the people still have that so-what-we're-not-perfect attitude, but there is an abundance of hope.