Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Triangle of Hope

My neighborhood does not seem a faubourg of Bagdhdad even as the newspaper trumpets nightly curfews (for kids) and the Triangle of Death, the clever newsy name for our returning violent crime problem. Government at every level fumbles for excuses and solutions, when the fix seems so clear, but I am just pleased to see the state troopers standing on French Quarter corners, to hear from friends in Lakeview that the Humvees are once again patrolling their battered streets.

From the porch of my Mid-City home, the city seems serene in the baking midday sun, even as I watch the laborers up the street come and go from the house being restored, adding to the debris piles that mark every street here on my little island in the archipelago of outlying neigborhoods. There is no column of smoke or chattering helicopters to mark yet another fire. Murder and mayhem seems far away. All is calm, all is bright even as a police car crawls up the street.

I feel safe even as I stand at the top of my steps, and visualize the water that stood in September two risers below my feet, and remember that my house stayed dry through near to the worst imaginable case. It was not the worst case, I reminded myself. I test computer software, and spend my days taking the hopeful requirements of Pangloss, Inc. and submiting their new software to every indignity I can imagine, a digital de Sade. I can always imagine a worse case. It is what I do for my daily bread.

Even with global warming and the Delphicly dire predictions of the forecasters, the Fate whose Greek name translates as Statistics is likely to be kind, or at least otherwise occupied. The last serious blow was Betsy 40 years early. The last prior storm of consequence was in the late 1940s, a storm only my 82-year-old mother, of everyone of my aquaintance, would remember personally. While I can envision seeing a roofless shell standing in water to where the eaves once hung, I do not, can not live in that vision, any more than I could routinely contemplate every possible circumstance of my death, and still make my way up the hall to breakfast.

Today's problem is not the flood, but the aftermath, in particular the raging crime in parts of the city. That same Fate will likely decree that it will never profoundly touch my life. Bloack-on-black, often criminal-on-criminal, it easy for the city to just seek to contain it, to keep it away from others neighborhoods, other people, to sweep it under the rug before the tourist buses unload.

I look up and down my block. No one in my neighborhood has bars on their doors or windows, no outward sign that a few miles away another kind of storm rages on the nightime streets as the drug dealers flood Central City. My new neighborhood is not like other places I have lived in New Orleans and back East, where I judged an apartment in part by the quality of the iron and the locks.

I lived in the shadow of this monster once before, when we lived in Northeast DC halfway between the Capitol Building and Len Bias' favorite crack market. In the early Nineties the urban world I loved to live in turned Clockwork Orange. Three people died in the space of a few months within a block of our home, and with our newborn daughter we fled to the near suburbs.
This time, while I don't live in the belly of the beast, I can not turn and run. Like every other monstrous problem confronting us, we have to face it, to find some way to mitigagte the damage of a century of neglected problems. But today, as I linger on my porch, it seems as distant as the crack wars of DC appeared from the serenity of the tidal basin's edge at the Jefferson Memorial.

As I look at the the Times-Picayune's map of death that accompanied the announcement of another young, black man found shot in the new Triangle of Death, I notice on that map a triangle without blemishes, defined by Carrollton and City Park Avenues and the Pontchartrain Expressway. It is, for me, a Triangle of Hope, as spotless as an unflooded blue-clad virgin in an upended bathtub niche, if you could find such a one in the water-marked town.

I lookup and town my block again, looking for a water mark. There is none. The water didn't stand here long enough to mark the brick of the piers that lifted our homes above it. As the police car slowly crawls up the street, I remember the bleak triangle directly behind me but miles to the south, the bodies of forgotten young men scattered like dots on a map, and I think: I have taken the good ground, and paid dearly for it. This is where we will make our stand. I have come to fight and will leave this porch with my shield or on it.

And that is a kind of hope.

As I said before, the hope of a New Orleanian is a funny kind of hope. I was once asked by a former boss, who was a yoga teacher and a great believer in the power of mind, for a statement of daily personal affirmation. It was not a good day to ask that question, and I straighted up as stiffly as Klingon on parade and answered, "today is a good day to die."

It was not, she offerered, exactly what she was looking for, but it fit the day. It it a statement not just of the obvious fatalism of the Hollywood warrior, but also the cryptic optimism of Krisha addressing Arjuna, a belief that no matter how bad it looks, remember: it is supposed to be this bad, it could get worse and there's no point in spending your fleeting life knotted in worry about it. Get on with it

There is a quote from writer and activist Audre Lorde I have carried with me since I ended a self-imposed exile from politics to rage at the lying of the right: "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive."

If you can find the optimism in that sentence, then you can understand why my little bit of heaven in the hellish heat is in the Triangle of Hope, why I can stand on my porch and accept all the lurking menace as cheerfully as I accept an afternoon thunderstorm or a stack of bills from the mailman, yet will still insist that we confront all our city's problems. You can understand why and how I have found my high ground in the postdeluvian wilderness, and choose this place and time to make my stand.

Today is a good day, a good day for whatever comes, a good day to be at home in New Orleans, as thunderheads pile up across the lake and the laborers go back and forth like termites with their bits of ruin and somewhere in the hot distance a wild siren howls. I want the people everywhere to feel the same, even in Central City. We have to find a way.



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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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