I remember when Katrina hit.
I remember sitting in my second grade classroom on the ground floor, where the first graders usually lived. In the corner, mounted to the ceiling, was a little black box of a TV, and when Katrina hit, my teacher never turned it off.
For the next few months — and maybe for the whole year — the hours of news footage I had watched out of the corner of my eye stayed vibrant in my mind. I saw the floods again, the pain again, the sorrow again every time I went into the school office and saw boxes full of donations, every time I walked into the school library and saw the containers asking for money to help the children of New Orleans rebuild theirs. I'd lived through many a tornado, but I knew that what we were talking about now was something so much larger than that.
I remember when Katrina hit, and I remember how terrible it all was.
Today I went a little rogue and drove myself up over the mountain to Gettysburg, PA. I do this from time to time; vaguely mention I’m leaving, wander for a couple hours in an off-puttingly conscious fugue state. And today, with no money and shoes only on second thought, I chose to drove East.
I live about forty minutes west of the Gettysburg Battlefield, a location more well-known and popularly visited than anything in my little town could ever hope to be. I have been there many times. It’s a tourist location, a historical site, somewhere every relative who dares to visit us wants to see. And we take them, hearing the same old story of nineteenth century warfare, climbing the same old towers, and tripping over the same old cannons. It’s an experience which lacks originality; it has never been thought provoking. But today, driving slowly with windows down and music silenced, then sitting barefoot under a cannon, I allowed it to be.
For ten years of my life I lived in a small town in South Central Pennsylvania, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the Appalachian Trail and Michaux State Forest. I have grown up walking through those woods, smelling those flowers and playing in those leaves. I have jumped in those puddles, squished my way through that mud, hopped and danced and climbed in and over and around those trails, those rocks, those trees.
In just ten short days I will hop on a plane to take me back to Penn’s Woods for the summer, where I will rejoice in the rain and the mountain laurel and the fireflies once more. But today I am thinking of my tulip poplar and lilies and dogwood tree not because I will get to see them so soon, but because today is a day reserved specially for that line of thought. On every April 22, we are asked to take a day—one measly little day—to consider our Earth and all that makes it glorious.
In one of the many societies I created in elementary school, I decided that not only would there be no laws, there would be no crime. And I meant this not as “well of course there’s no crime if there are no laws to break,” but rather as “there are no laws because no one needs them to know the difference between right and wrong.” There were to be no killings. No non-consensual transfer of property. No thwarting of people’s pure identities—only acceptance and love. There were to be no weapons, no human rights violations, and although I doubt I knew it existed at the time, no rape.
I remember wishing that that was how my actual society was, too (after all, that was the whole point of creating new ones), and wondering how it wasn’t. Wondering how people could kill each other, how people could steal, how people could flaunt weaponry and words with the intent to harm.
Of course, at that age I knew very little of human nature. I knew about the fallibility of human bodies, to an extent I still can’t quite imagine. I knew love, I knew apathy, I knew hurt. But I did not know the causes, or to what extent they could influence actions.
One of my favorite pictures of myself was taken this past summer, by my sister and her little Fujifilm instant camera. In this picture I stand, body twisting to smile back at the camera, on a path by the banks of a stream that winds through what can best be described as a meadow. You can barely see the edge of my brother in the background, hopping along the path on rocks he seems to blend into, mountains and pine trees and grass cluttering up the landscape. The colors are vibrant, but even they don't do justice to the beauty and wonder my family saw that day, as we meandered like the wild goates we are through Rocky Mountain National Park, only maybe an hour west of my father's birthplace.
It's one of those pictures that you love not just because you like how you look in it or because you're with your favorite people, but because of how it makes you feel. And it's one of those pictures that makes you feel good not just because of the memory of that place or that moment or that day, but because the picture itself brings back those feelings of wonder and amazement, of breathing fresh air and being free. Simply seeing that picture does not make me miss it, it makes me excited for all of the times I get to do that again.
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