The locals, if they speak English, are sometimes barely intelligible. The art makes you sometimes scratch your head, oftentimes wonder what the artist was smoking, and on rare, precious occasions, draw a gasp at its strange beauty. Other pieces make you wish that you could wear blinders like a mule, or perhaps have a content filter to prevent yourself from being blinded.
Of course, I speak of New Orleans. It’s a city that is equally charming and alarming, and one that I visit on a somewhat regular basis. Just about every time I go there, despite its sordid reputation, it teaches me some solid lessons, and is quite thought provoking.
I’d like to share three of those thoughts with you.
New Orleans is an object lesson in the depravity of man. In a city like Baton Rouge, where I live, it’s easy to remain in the good areas of town, and get a white-washed view of mankind. You normally don’t see things more strange than a girl with a pink mohawk. Hair is decently harmless, at the end of the day. But in New Orleans, it’s common to see people who are extremely drunk in the middle of the day, wandering down the street. On disturbingly frequent occasions, you see people who dress in extremely immodest ways, presumably because they’re so starved for any sort of love and attention that they go to ludicrous lengths to even get a distorted variety of either. It’s a city famous for its art, yet much of the art is clearly drug fueled, and often tinged with a pallor of hopeless depression. And that’s just the stuff that goes on in the open. Much of New Orleans, (although I’m positive there are some great people there) seems to be proud of its perversions. It illustrates life without God.
It’s interesting how isolated we can be, in the midst of crowds. I think a human is the only creature that could be completely, crushingly surrounded by his own kind, but profoundly alone at the same time. The people around us that compose the ambiguous, exclusionary “them” aren’t really that different than the “us,” the people that you know, and are familiar with. Some people in the twisting streets of the Crescent City were probably Christians, most likely weren’t. Everyone around me has deep emotions, unknown secrets, fears, hopes and dreams. But much of the world is hidden from us.
You see the tips of icebergs around you, in the ocean of humanity. Sometimes, the underwater, unseen part of your iceberg bumps up against another, and you get to know someone. You don’t quite realize what someone else’s chunk of ice comprises when you only see what is visible. Some icebergs, you bump into, and sometimes, rarely, your ice melts, and fuses with another berg. But rarely. Too rarely.
As much as I’d love to drone on about the evils of the world, and imply that I don’t share them, that’s not true. My family and I were walking down a street, surrounded by hordes of tourists and natives, and saw a man folded up, presumably asleep, right next to the sidewalk, between two bushes or trees. Obviously, it’s not normal to be sleeping next to a crowd like that, even in New Orleans. It’s possible he had fallen asleep, and was just homeless. It’s possible he was dead. It’s possible that he’d had too much alcohol, and had passed out. His life may have been in danger.
Whatever the circumstance, we walked right by, all noticing him. Would the good Samaritan have stopped? Part of me snidely responds that if the good Samaritan had stopped to care for every unconscious man in New Orleans, he’d have a new full time job. Part of me thinks that we’re down there on vacation, and can serve another time. After all, I wouldn’t want to spoil the trip for the rest of the family by taking hours to try to deal with some random stranger, would I? Another excuse pops into my head. The man’s probably drunk, or high. He might be dangerous. He might not even want to be woken up.
Would he have been eating in a restaurant that night, like I did? Or would he have been sharing his meal with that man? It’s a question that makes me think.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about any of this post.