Last Thursday I was welcomed home by my dear friend Brian and his fantastic and endearing girlfriend, Ashley. They greeted me with a warm bowl of seafood chowder, garlic bread, and a divinely crafted rum cocktail. We made a picnic table of the futon bed and began to fill the evening with reminiscing and recounting the tales from our first meeting in New Orleans, nearly three years ago. We were part of a band of lost souls who had all entered NOLA soon after some kind of crisis. We came looking for a life-changing experience, or at least an experience that was different than the one we’d just had, and we were not disappointed. Although each of us were in a bitter and difficult time of our lives that Spring, we recalled the memory of our week at the New Orleans India House Hostel with fondness and laughter.
So much laughter… “Hi! I’m Cuba Gooding Jr.!” became the tagline of our evening. Probably because that story took the longest to tell. Either me, Ashley, or Brian himself would interrupt him as he told the tale of meeting the actor, in order to insert another suddenly-pertinent story. This became the theme of our rum-spiked banter, captured most poignantly when I asked them why they were returning to New Orleans.
“For the stories,” Brian stated simply. I understood perfectly. I have more stories from my week in NOLA than I do from my month in Sydney. There is something so very raw, so real, about the people of New Orleans. They live in the present more than any other people I have ever known.
“…Because you never know if today will be your last,” Ashley added to the thought I’d shared. A sobering thought to most, but far from sobering to a New Orleanian. The hurricane season is an annual reminder not just of Katrina, but of the brevity of life itself. So… sobering? Far from it. Life-giving. Every day is a gift. Freedom to express, freedom to love, freedom to live – are all daily treasures.
As Brian put it, New Orleans is the city of “close enough”. No one is there to get famous, gain status, or acquire prestige. They are there to find a culture that doesn’t wreak of pretension. They are there to hear music played for the sake of music. They are there to live passionately for passion’s sake. They are there for story. Whether it’s to add to their own or discover other’s.
Song, dance, folklore, myths, oral tradition and finally the written word were invented to tell the story of the human race. Stories have long since been passed down from our ancestors to provide guidance, wisdom and even entertainment from one generation to the next. On an individual level, our stories are what reveal our humanity. This is why I write, why I dance, why I travel. This is why people such as Brian and Ashley move their whole lives from one city to another. Because who are we without our story?