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The Kindness of Strangers 

Like a lot of folks who have returned to New Orleans, I've been grappling with the best way to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I don't envy the people who have been charged with putting together the city's official day of remembrance. It's no easy task.

Event organizers have been criticized by some for being too celebratory, by others for being too maudlin. I think the official events are all appropriate, particularly when they are considered collectively. Katrina tore through our city, ripped apart our social contract and broke our hearts. But we survived, and as many of us who can do so have returned.

At this time, it's important both to mourn and to celebrate -- particularly in New Orleans, a city whose traditions include turning funerals into parades and parties, a city where the line between the living and the dead is a very, very fine one -- and one that is often blurred.

I'd like to add one more emotion to the list of "things to feel on Aug. 29, 2006" -- gratitude. In addition to mourning those who were taken and celebrating those who have returned, I think we all need to thank those who have helped us get back home.

Our community owes a debt that can never be repaid to America and to the world. Many hereabouts are still angry at our government, but just think for a moment how much worse off we'd be if the millions of private donors and volunteers the world over had not come to our rescue. Faith-based groups, community organizations, police and firemen and EMS volunteers from south Louisiana and all over the country as well as here in New Orleans, high school and college students, businesses large and small -- perfect strangers, perfect in every sense of the word, opened their hearts, their homes and their wallets to take us in and help bring us back. Like Blanche DuBois, we all came to depend on the kindness of strangers.

We owe them. As we consider our individual and collective fates this week, let's not forget to thank them.

On a personal level, in the days and weeks immediately following the storm, who among us did not taste the milk of human kindness? Before the years allow the memories to fade, we should each take the time -- this week -- to thank those we can still find for helping us in our time of need.

I'd like to thank a few folks right now, in the space I have left:

• To my Uncle Bob and Aunt Judy DuBos of Baton Rouge, thank you for taking in, at one time or another, almost my entire family and one or two Gambit employees as well. Not once did you ever complain, though Lord knows we gave you plenty of opportunities and reasons. In fact, you were the picture of patience and unconditional love -- thank you.

• To alternative weeklies across the country, and to the staff at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, who generously donated more than $100,000 to the displaced employees of Gambit in the weeks after the storm -- thank you.

• To Lynn Perkins Perez, who still graciously gives my parents a place to live while they renovate their flooded-out home, and who has been a source of great comfort to them during this trying time -- thank you.

• To my friend Tony Clayton of Pointe Coupee Parish, who rounded up a boat and two "volunteers" to take me across Lake Pontchartrain, from Madisonville to Lake Vista, four days after the storm so that I could see my home -- and who rescued two of my wonderful neighbors that same day -- thank you.

• To my friend Dave Lemoine, a Cajun who now lives in Red Lodge, Mont., who drove all the way down to help me get back into Gambit's offices and "rescue" some of our computers -- thank you.

• To my friend Tony Taylor of Hahnville, publisher of Louisiana Sportsman magazine, who brought his truck and his sons to the task of rescuing those same computers -- and who drove them all the way to Baton Rouge so they could be stored and worked on -- thank you.

• To Gayle Zewe, who lost much of her own business and yet opened her Metairie offices time and again to the Gambit staff when we were "homeless" and trying to find our way back -- thank you.

• To my neighbors in Lake Vista and Lakeview, who have lost so much and yet gave so much to help us all come back home -- thank you.

• Above all, to my family and to my colleagues at Gambit, for your loyalty, selflessness, love and undying commitment -- thank you, thank you, thank you for reminding us all of what really matters.


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