To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NKJV)
Just over two years ago, I was sitting in a recently gutted warehouse/church called "Light City" in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, LA. As we arrived, make-shift lighting and electricity were being installed by friends that I had worked with on other missions projects. It was good to see them in contrast to the stark reality of what surrounded us. We helped lay cots down for the 1,200 + college students and staff that would be staying at this particular site. 40 or so port-a-potties, push-pump sinks, tent showers, and bottled water would be our facilities for the week. The scenes of driving into the 9th ward flashed through my head as I tried to settle in for the night as every move on a cot echoed through my ears. Had we really just driven through an actual part of the United States? It looked as though we had driven through a war-ravaged country. Something close to what I have seen third-world countries looking like on TV. But I couldn't turn it off. It would be there when I woke up, it would be there when I went to sleep, and it just wasn't going to go away. That week was hard emotionally and physically. The stories of families that we met haunt me and yet their continued correspondence encourages me. Our students were great and many have gone back since that time. The time spent there has left an impression on me that will last a lifetime... but it also brings about questions that I struggle with often.
When I think of that time my mind always flashes to the above verses in Ecclesiastes. Is this the time to build there? I think about this often. Even more so since we recently watched a renovation in that area on "This Old House." Not only rebuilds of people's homes but also a community for jazz muscians, something for which New Orleans is quite famous. There are great things happening there, I admit. But people are not returning in droves as they thought. It seems like those who can really renovate are people that have money -- that is my perception, I confess. I know this is a generalization and that it is not true of all, so that's my disclaimer to that. Those that are not as well off are usually benefiting from some well-intentioned organization and I laud their efforts. People will then talk about the revitalization of the French Quarter to justify this or that. The reality is that the 9th Ward was the most devastated area in Louisiana. When I was there two years ago the French Quarter which houses Bourbon Street and the site of Mardi Gras didn't seem any worse for the ware with some visible water damage but stores open for business just the same. It looked like "life as normal" compared to where we had just been about 30-minutes before in the 9th Ward. What was missing, however, was the droves of people that usually vacation there. The 9th ward was not a place that tourists put on their "places to see" list. It was probably a place that many told visitors to avoid altogether. The other reality is that this place is six feet below sea level. There is a reason that New Orleans "buries" their dead six feet above ground. Flooding seems inevitable. This kind of devastation could happen again but I can't imagine that anyone would just leave that land undeveloped. I continue to teeter on what is really the right thing to do.
I guess the same argument could be made for places in Florida that have been ravaged by frequent hurricanes. Or even for Tornado Alley. Earthquakes in California. I think that the aftermath of this storm has been so great and so devastating that it has caused a greater need for pause and reflection.
With all that to say, I still don't know. One day I think it's great that people are there rebuilding. Other days I am vehemently against it and figure we will be back to square one in 10-15 years. Sigh.
In it all I am reminded that the things of this world are fleeting and life is but a vapor...
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. - Psalm 103:15-16