I have never loved Baton Rouge more. In the face of a worldwide pandemic, we have stepped up to support each other in extraordinary ways. Of course, this comes as no surprise from the hometown of the Cajun Navy. We have waded through waters after the floods, saved families and pulled river-sodden furnishings out to the curb. We have served meals to the recently homeless and lost. We’ve supplied toiletries to those who have never before lacked a private bathroom. We have sheltered in place during storms that shut down the city’s electricity and mobility. We have pulled out chainsaws and cut neighbors’ fallen trees. We have waited in long lines for gasoline and paid for those who couldn’t access their funds. We have stood strong for one another.
But, until now, we have never seen the whole city shut down. Turn out its lights. Until now, we have never watched the city sink to its knees.
Until now, we have never been separated from one another.
A hurricane wreaks havoc, then passes. Same too, a flood. Although weather is unpredictable at best, we know how to stock up on water, and bread, and necessities. We know when to come out of hiding and assess the damage. Consider the future. Count our losses. Lend a helping hand.
So it comes as no shock to find that the residents of south Louisiana don’t do social distancing well. We don’t know how not to help, how not to rebound in public, how not to fellowship with one another. We don’t know how not to go to a restaurant, or a festival, or a parade or a concert. Even in the most perilous of times, our community events propelled us forward and often helped raise funds for the neediest in our midst. Our communities supported our individuals.
So when our community engagements become limited to email, and social media, and Zoom, we find ourselves wanting. This is not how we were raised to be.
We were raised to be hand shakers, and huggers, and holders on. We were raised to reach out and greet face to face and form bonds and unions in our circles. Those of us raised in the South don’t find it easy to keep away and keep still and keep silent. Even the grocery stores, with people shopping, are eerily silent. As if talking aloud mocks the situation at hand.
And yet, in the silent days of social distancing, we find heroes who reach out to those most in need. The families with children at home lend a hand to local restaurants with to-go orders and gift cards. Individuals continue giving blood in the time of crisis. Healthcare workers show up every day to serve. The government softens the laws to allow those in hard times to make it through the chaos.
And we attempt to continue on.
Baton Rouge will prevail because our people make it possible. There will be damage—not unlike fallen timber or rotted sheetrock—but it might be more personal. Damage in the lives of sickly neighbors, or shuttered businesses, or hungry tummies. Damage that a blue tarp can’t cover.
Yes, our city has suddenly sunk to its knees. But it’s not in despair. It’s in prayer. And it’s to bend down and pick up our fellow man.