The Aftermath of the Storm

Last weekend, I was roller skating with a friend at San Francisco Civic Center’s outdoor rink. She said she has been experiencing a low-grade depression since the pandemic began, and that all her friends seem to be fine.

I replied that her challenges are part of that “new normal” people speculated about in early 2020. While others generally pondered whether we would ever return to the shared office environment, large concert arenas, and handshakes, I wondered: “After we emerge from lockdown, what will our individual psychological landscapes be?”

From 2015 to 2019, I visited New Orleans every year. I fell in love with the people, the music, and the “laissez les bon temps rouler” lifestyle.

Volunteering at the then-existing family law clinic inside the civil courthouse, I worked with self-represented people on their family law pleadings. In preparation, I read the entire Louisiana Family Code, which, adorably, counted Mardi Gras in its child custody holiday schedules.

One of my most profound takeaways was that Hurricane Katrina, which had ravaged New Orleans ten years before, was a source of daily discussion.

This was true not just because people were still living with the hurricane psychologically—which, of course, they were and always will be.

It was also pragmatic: One woman didn’t have a copy of her Judgment because “the stawwwm”—”the storm” with a New Orleans accent—had taken it away. (To my surprise, many legal records in New Orleans existed only on paper in 2005.) A man’s child custody arrangement involved interstate travel because his ex-wife had relocated to Texas after “the stawwwm” and had rebuilt her life there, whereas he had returned home.

When you think of all the practical ways our lives are different now, compared to when the pandemic began, you must consider that an attendant psychological shift has taken place for you.

You are likely happier in some ways than before but probably also face some “new normal”-specific struggles. I see it in my family law practice and in my workplace investigations: people are living brand new lives they might not have contemplated had COVID not come along. We’re all sensitive and irritable in new ways, too.

Here I am in New Orleans for Mardi Gras 2017. No matter your politics, you probably felt then that life couldn’t get any harder. That is what I was thinking underneath that wig and behind that mask. But for thirteen days, I laughed and danced and marveled at the ingenious musical and visual creativity all around me.

At the roller rink last weekend, I asked my friend, “If one of your friends walked by and saw us roller skating, wouldn’t they assume you are doing well?”

We don’t know what others are going through unless they tell us. Also, it takes time to grasp how the fallout of trauma is settling on ourselves.

In New Orleans—and everywhere—when it’s time to dance, you must. Not knowing when our next hurricane is coming, let’s seize our joyful moments and celebrate all we have.