After being in NOLA for a week I feel like a fundamentally different person. I left Asheville a tired, depressed skeptic and have returned reborn by knowledge. Did this knowledge make me any less skeptical? No. If anything, it made me more so. I was not prepared to see what I saw. The news media did not show me what could have prepared me. My government did not react aggressively enough to the situation to indicate its severity. So I found out on my own and learned that not only can I not trust the government to solve problems. I can not expect the government to tell the truth. I have long believed that if only someone honest, open, straightforward would come in and revolutionize the system we have it might just work. It might just be that elusive utopia. Now I think that is impossible. I do not believe the government has the ability to change. It is like an old man who has been bedridden for 20 years trying to do yoga. It is not going to happen, and it is silly of me to hope for that. But this is not the end of the path. I am not plunged into despair. The government cannot make me despair. Only I can make myself dispair.
The redeeming factor of this trip--what has refreshed me--was what I learned about community. On the most basic level, I learned that you cannot nail a 4x8 piece of OSB to the side of a house by yourself. At best, you need three people with strong arms. But community does not stop there. Community is why I went down there in the first place. Because I consider myself part of a community of workers: not in the Marxist sense of the word, but as a person willing to work for something better than the status quo. That community opened upon a broader community: that of this nation. I am not isolated from the woes of someone in Louisiana simply because I live in a cooler, drier climate and don't eat jambalaya on a regular basis. Without trying to sound new-agey, I believe in the synechdoce of the community as a body. When one part is not working properly or is injured or sick, the whole organism suffers. Thus, how can I expect to live happily while ignoring the fact that others are suffering? I could drug myself with consumption as so many choose to do, but then we all know what drugs do over long periods of time. So I suppose you could say I have learned what it means to be a member of a larger community. Bigger than my own circle of acquaintances. I am responsible for things that I have no direct relationship with.
Rather than becoming a pebble in my shoe, however, this is just what I needed. Sometimes at college I lose track of what I am working towards. Now I might not know what I want to do with myself career-wise after I graduate, but I do know that I am working for a healthy community, and that's enough to keep me busy for a few lifetimes at least.