Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Death and Rebirth: Christopher Rice, a Son of New Orleans, Finds Hope for the City's Resurrection in the Long Mystical Waltz the City Has Always Danced with Death

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Death and Rebirth: Christopher Rice, a Son of New Orleans, Finds Hope for the City's Resurrection in the Long Mystical Waltz the City Has Always Danced with Death

Article excerpt

I was brought to New Orleans against my will. When I was 10 years old my parents packed up our Castro District Victorian in San Francisco and moved us to the city my mother had been forced to leave against her will when she was 14. They assured me that we would only be spending a summer there. Before I knew it summer had come and gone, and I was being enrolled in an elite Episcopal prep school several blocks from our first home in the city, which stood on "the wrong side" of Magazine Street.

The first boy I met at the school's orientation party would become my closest friend for the next four years before taking his own life at the age of 16, a death that sent shock waves through the Garden District community we both grew up in. His grave sits on the opposite side of Interstate 10 from where my family's mausoleum holds the bodies of my father and my sister.

I write these statements in the present tense even though I don't know the condition of these final resting places in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's strike against the city. I am haunted by images of my father's coffin being released to the floodwaters. Mourning an entire city feels impossible. Yet mourning a grave feels selfish when New Orleans residents who were too impoverished to evacuate have drowned inside their attics.

Ironically, the cemeteries are also where I've found the seeds of hope for the city's emotional recovery. While the physical recovery from this disaster will be enormous, there is no other city in the nation that is as spiritually equipped to deal with mass death on this scale. New Orleanians bury their dead above ground because they have to; the water table, before Katrina, was too high to accommodate basements and below-ground graves. The city rose to this challenge, not with banks of sterile oven-slot tombs but with dazzlingly elaborate mausoleums. Not only are they temples to the world that may exist beyond this one, they are testaments to the spiritual possibilities that can arise in response to nature's constraints.

Contrast this attitude with the dumb outrage expressed by Malibu, Calif., residents every time a wildfire races through their multimillion-dollar acreages, and New Orleans is revealed to be a city with a deep and meaningful acceptance of nature's cruel realities.

Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, I have spent my evenings pausing and rewinding news footage of my hometown in search of some intersection or landmark so that I might winnow down the enormous and numbing sense of loss I feel. …

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