"So, then, people a thousand years from now -- this is the way we were . . . This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying."
-- Thornton Wilder, Our Town
Molt (verb) -- to shed skin, or feathers, or the like, that will be replaced by new growth.
The moment has just about arrived. Soon I will be travelling back. Not that I have ever much wanted to. But I took on this furtive assignment to return (as a fundraising volunteer) with nearly no enthusiasm, in other words just to try to aid others in a modest way, while thousands of would be conference-goers have eagerly queued up, smiling with anticipation, looking to let the good times roll.
But -- not me. New Orleans was my home for almost 30 years. Then terrible things happened (as people always said they would, like the Big One that many prognosticators claim will someday strafe California's coast and make it sink and disappear). The hot summer ocean tides first in the Bahamas, then over to the Gulf of Mexico, blew up cyclonically in August of 2005-- and all those bad omens and things, that everybody had digested warnings about, came to pass; terrible things (as I said), that all began with the letter K, and then later the letter R. Hurricanes, on Summer break, girls gone wild.
Something undeniable, inexplicable, impossibly morose, flickered inside of my head and heart one day in early 2006 -- soon after I had begrudgingly returned, virtually homeless and heartsick and alone, to a nicknamed, tear-stained, hurricane-reeking City That Care Forgot. The flicker? It was this. I unsmilingly acknowledged the truth that Thomas Wolfe was right, even without taking anti-depressants, mind you, that one cannot fully (ever) return home again. Not really. Not after a horrifying, death-dealing molting season. Especially if your home has been mortally wounded. When a tornado has so ripped and rocked your once-cozy neighborhood that the well-known landscape now looks like a pod of power-mad, mythical nature gods have had a little 'boys will be boys' entertainment at your expense with an olympian-sized eggbeater. Especially if the overall situation, the city itself and its people, now clearly seem akin to a doomed bunch of Neros fiddling away as all in all inexorably sinks into a great roiling gulf, never to be seen or heard from or loved again
In these, my post-trauma thoughts, that little (dimly-lit) flicker started a short and sad little recording in my head -- and it came to me over and over. It echoed like the measured, heavy, squealing, grinding-rolldown of a massive garage door, aiming to settle into its cement groove, at ground zero. Down all the way to the damp, gray, hardshell floor. A cold, clunking, ending reality. A bump in the night! Then, an unseen latch would slam steely (hard) into its slot.
So, I was, and I am, gone, and I don't want to (and I won't) go back. Which gives me some pause. Because it reminds me of the old cautionary line, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.'
The place where we held the wakes for my dead mother and father, 3 short years apart, during the late '80s, was the Moltman Memorial Funeral Parlor. Parlor. What a ghastly concept. What an anguishing set of experiences. I remember staring, as much as I could, at the Moltman walls. They were painted an odd color -- which resembled summery peach in muted, death-respectful lighting. I would just stare; though surrounded by people, I wordlessly would hope the moment would just end. Now and then, a demure or quizzical stranger, or a little-known family member, or someone else, would amble up to inquire if I was the son; say that my parents were good people; and then solemnly add that, yes, it's a sad, sad thing when someone however old passes over to the Great Unknown. There's a thought out of Wisdom Central.
When I try to picture what it will be like to work, for a good cause, for a few days in a house of death, the New Orleans Convention Center, I keep recalling those times at the peachy-clean Moltman Parlor for the Incurably Dead and my parents in their ornate caskets and the emotionally-wrenching stories that I was privileged to hear (post-K), from Convention Center survivors about the injured, the lost, the incurably dead. I think I will attempt to just stare at the wide-reaching peach colored walls -- and be kind and receptive and polite, as if I were in a hushed "at a wake" frame of mind. And maybe I'll only speak when spoken too. See, I have resented deeply that the Superdome in New Orleans, and the Convention Center, are 'back to work, in business as usual' -- seemingly without a thought or care for those who suffered and died in each. About the thousands of folks who continue to suffer traumatically and will never get over it, because their city drowned or the home and livlihoods got washed away. Peach colored walls, purple carpets, the graffitti on the convention-room walls -- tagged in spray paint thier by desperate people feeling hopeless and abandoned, in some cases dying -- covered over, the sound of business being done, laughs being had, drinks being toasted, and money being made. Yes, it's the American way. Molting is a powerful process. In nature, it portends good, and growth, and renewed life. In the hands of human beings, molting, as a metaphor, often tells a very different story, mired deep between the obvious lines.
So, the moment has just about arrived. As I've told you, I am almost back. My bag tags will once again read MSY. Will anyone notice or care. Will I find a way to make it work? Sure. But it's gonna be weird. I suppose I will stare a lot as the days and the people in convention central wander by -- staring straight at any peach walls that I can find. I hope there is good cable and wireless service in my hotel room. But even with such diversions, I am afraid that I'll wind up counting down the hours, as if they will never end, until my homebound plane, with a sense of relief and a mighty thrust of man-made power, wings away from ground, all wheels up and shining in the December sun.
Before I close, though, stick with me for one more plea. Please remember in thought and prayers the thousands of people who died (and others who unfortunately suffer much, to this day, throughout the Gulf region) in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some 'girls gone wild' make quite a pair and cause more mischief than others.
'Dad, I'm not kidding. I'm pretty sure there's some mind of monster under my bed.'