Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday, Again

Ash Wednesday morning here in New Orleans, and the peaceful calm out on the streets contrasts with the hectic carnival atmosphere of the past five days. Believe it or not, the streets are clean of the debris and detritus of hundreds of thousands of people who came here to have fun.

A brief aside: on the way to work this morning, I passed a young woman who had a towel covering her mouth and nostrils. I saw her coming from a distance (I was about a block up the street from her), and I wondered if there was some kind of smell nearby, some after-Carnival atrocity (don't ask). But no. As I got to the corner where she was waiting for the light to change, everything seemed normal enough. The thought came to me that perhaps this young woman was simply having a bloody nose. Or perhaps she had just got into a fight with someone. The light changed, and as she passed me by, our eyes met, and I saw a look of bewidered fear just as plain and unmistakeable as can be, but no blood. I felt an emotion too strange to be identified, kind of like a bit of concern (and bewilderment myself) mixed with a desire to help.

After we passed each other by, she and I heading in opposite directions, I began thinking about what would have happened if I had asked her if she was OK. From the look of bewildered fear I saw in her eyes, she would have probably said nothing, and walked faster, just to get away from me. Most people are like that  in downtown New Orleans. There is an atmosphere of distrust and wariness towards strangers here, so the whole thing struck me as typical. But the thing is, I did feel an irrational pull of resentment towards the woman. Why?  Because I was concerned about her, and she didn't even tell me "Good morning!", or even "Fuck you!" (writer's note: she was a white girl, and most white people are like that in downtown New Orleans. Black people are usually far more friendlier. If you make eye contact, almost all of them will say something pleasant. Really.) I quickly shot down this crazy resentment, asking myself a question: "Do you think that your good intentions and your good will gives you justification to accost a stranger on the street, or, does this entitle you to the woman's attention and respect? "  I smiled in amusement at how my mind sometimes goes off on a lark, and felt like I had gained an important insight, or rather, I found the exact words to name an insight I had already experienced before. No, my good will entitles me to nothing. My good will should make it more likely to get along with people on varying levels, but it's never guaranteed. So, my thoughts segued to those people who truly think that their good will ("I'm only trying to help you!") gives them moral carte blanche, as if their desire to help others, or their desire to be nice to others, is the only virtue necessary in their day to day lives.

A lot of writers whom I respect have said that liberals seem to believe that intentions are more important than consequences. Could this belief come out of some sort of emotional insecurity? I experienced something like that this morning, you see? For a moment, I believed that my good intentions to that stranger entitled me to her good will, or approval, or something else I wanted.

Anyway, it's Ash Wednesday here in New Orleans, and Spring is only about a week or two away. From today until Jazz and Heritage Fest, this city is the most beautiful place in the entire world, unrivaled by no other. No place, I repeat, no place in our beautiful world is more lovely and more stunningly beautiful than New Orleans, between March and May. The azaleas are already starting to bloom in places, and soon the deciduous trees will get their leaves back (any day now). The revelry and chaos is over; this is the beginning of Lent, and an entirely differant New Orleans. The weather is perfect, and temps rarely rise above 75 degrees, or sink below 50. Now is the perfect time to come to New Orleans and experience what our beloved city is all about: the music, the neighborhood ambiances, the preservation of things past, and our unique, vibrant culture. Our people, my people, New Orleanians who have stayed to rebuild. I for one can attest to this fact: New Orleans is back! And we are getting better!

Damn, what got me on that track? Disclaimer: I am not employed by the New Orleans Tourist and Tourism Board (does such a thing exist?), nor am I getting compensated for this blog entry.

I think I'll take a walk to The Square today, and get my ashes.

I would like to take this time to shout out to my father, Larry Turner, a true New Orleanian and just as proud of our city as I am: I love you, dad!

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