Katrina Brain is a term I use to describe what it feels like when coming to grips with the paradoxes of life. Living through hurricanes, floods and tornadoes were common childhood experiences for me. Waiting for the ‘big one’ has been at the back of my mind my entire life. I was born and grew up in and around the Gulf Coast, and settled with my working poor family on the west bank of New Orleans when I was fifteen. In the Gulf South we tend to be little crazy and eccentric, and my family is as good an example of this as any. My mother was a beautiful woman who belonged to a racially and ethnically mixed clan with close ties to the Mississippi delta region. She met my white father who was a naval officer stationed in Orange, Texas just after WWII. That is how I came to be here.
Growing up we had to stick together just to survive. As a teenager I remember many times when my mom and aunt would pool their resources to feed us. They each had five kids and as I remember, whoever had the meat got to prepare it in her kitchen with the other one bringing whatever she had to throw into the pot. We lived by our wits making our own rules, rarely allowing outsiders to really know us. I played back of Bayou Barataria, an area now known as Jean Lafitte National park. I was encouraged to stick with the family no matter what, and to never cross the Mississippi River Bridge alone as New Orleans was no place for a kid. Curiosity got the best of me and I moved to New Orleans proper as soon as possible. There I stayed until moving to Austin, Texas in 1991.
Times were just as tough and beautiful then, as they are now. For almost a month after Katrina hit my home became ‘command central’ as friends and relatives attempted to connect with one another. Then Rita hit and my Texas relatives along the Sabine River got a taste of what my New Orleans relatives had experienced. During the first 6 months I did what I could to support my family and friends. I promised myself early on that I would not spread the horror of what I was hearing, and that I would look for the pearl of wisdom within the catastrophe. I continue to pray to God to give me ‘eyes that see and ears that hear.’
It took an impoverished childhood, numerous natural and self made disasters, plus the destruction of the Gulf Coast to give me the courage to express my truth publicly. Now what I believe and try to live, is that compassion and tolerance for what makes us human is of utmost importance. In a strange way this brings peace to my Soul and keeps me humble. I am now grateful for having a Katrina Brain.
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