Rhythm of Community§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: September 20, 2005; revised: April 2, 2018; readers in past month: 556

Me in Birmingham
after Hurricane Katrina

I fared pretty well Hurricane Katrina, compared to others, but I still have plenty of pain I’m working through. The pain is the loss of my childhood neighborhood for one. That has had a poetic and mental effect on me. Also, I’m starting to realize that there’s another personal loss: that’s the loss of my communities. New Orleans is not just a place, but a collection of people with certain attitudes, values, and habits.

Sitting at Starbucks in Birmingham this morning — this is my first stop after evacuating three days after the hurricane hit — I’ve been thinking about all of the people that used to come into the Starbucks where I lived, the Starbucks which I have visited almost every day for the last eight years. I’m wondering what happen to each of the regulars: an old lady I used to talk with named Morgan (her real name in Penny, but she thought it would be neat to have one person in her life who called her by her middle name, so I do) who came in at 11:00 and read the philosophy of Schopenhauer and Satre, all curled up in one of the big easy chairs. She would talk to me every day about my life and complain about the radio being too loud.

What happened to Mr. Maybee, a Mormon gentleman from Salt Lake City who’s 84 years old. He would come in twice a week for a piece of cake and a cup of coffee and talk with me. What happened to the Romanian woman I asked on a date a few weeks ago, but had to cancel because she was called unexpectedly to the night shift at Tulane Medical Center (right next door to Charity Hospital where there were a couple of shootings this week)? Did she stay at the hospital and what’s happening to her now?

What happened to the dozens of regulars who waved to me when they came in and occasionally sat with me to tell their stories and to get advice or compassion in return? For that matter, what happened to the girls who worked at Starbucks: Angelique who dreams of going to Europe and gets excited when I tell her of my trip to Prague and plans to go to Amsterdam in October. Or maybe Maggie who’s 24 and cute as can be and was excited just three weeks ago because she moved into her first apartment, but was so afraid that she got her mother and friends to sleep over in turns each night for the first week before she felt it was safe to go it alone? How safe does she feel now? What happened to all of them? And when things are supposedly back to normal, will they all come back and order the same coffee and patries, be there at the same times, discuss the same things? Or will some of them never come back? Will those who do come back be emotionally changed so that their conversations are now different, perhaps more solemn, or will they be more alive and be happy to be alive for having survived this catastrophe?

My community is gone and that can’t be fixed with a government check or by any other easy method. Certainly, I know that life will sprout again and new dynamics, a new community will come forth. But it’ll never be the same. That’s why it’s hard for me and many of us to consider the notion of returning any time soon. Maybe one day, but for now we can’t.