Above Baton Rouge on Monday, the sun struggled to reclaim its rightful place in the summer sky, brightness alternating with persistent clouds. It was a mixed horizon for a mixed day, as south Louisiana grasped for the comfort of weekday routines in the aftermath of a national disaster.
That’s what we have ahead of us in the coming weeks and months — hints of returning normality here and there, occasionally assuring us with the pleasant illusion that this weekend’s news was just a nightmare, shrugged off with the return of dawn. And yet, beneath the basic rhythms of daily life, there remains the stark and vivid evidence of a tragedy still in motion, as rising waters threaten even more homes, businesses and lives.
One of the eeriest moments came on Sunday, when many residents discovered their smart phones knocked out of commission by the flood. The downed communications posed a safety hazard, limiting critical connections between those who needed help and those who could give it. Even for those of us out of harm’s way, our silent cell phones compounded a sense of isolation that can visit anyone near ground zero of a disaster. There was a feeling of life in limbo, our concerns cut off abruptly from the wider world. It is our blessing and our curse that communication connects us umbilically to the rest of the planet each minute of the day, and when that link is lost, the hours can seem untethered, adrift in an alternate universe.
Away from the chatter of other souls, if only for an afternoon, we sensed a pregnant pause – a quiet, in other words, that gave birth to something else. What Sunday’s silence yielded, perhaps, was perspective — a sudden sense that the anxieties of last week, before the waters swallowed up so much we held dear, were small by comparison with the weight of what we now bear.
Looking out from south Louisiana right now can feel like peering into an inverted telescope, a view that makes so many of the world’s worries seem tiny and trivial. We have no patience at the moment for petty presidential politics, preening celebrity scandals, or Olympic doping disputes.
That’s the grim gift of this slow-moving catastrophe — that it has reminded us what really matters: Faith, family, home, and community. They are all worth fighting for, as we begin the long march to regain what’s been lost.