by Ian McNulty
When challenged, we know our community responds with heart, with generosity and with grit. If only we had a leader at the head of our city who was up to the quality of its people.
Hundreds of thousands of New Orleans people tonight gathered around radios, sometimes only by candlelight, or around televisions, maybe on cots in gymnasiums or in the blank haven of anywhere motel rooms, waiting for word about when to return home. We got an answer, sort of.
But what we really heard were the squeaks and whistles of a man with suspect credibility trying to substitute empty swagger and self-centered wisecracks for the substance and depth for which we yearn. Mayor Ray Nagin told us to run for our lives before Hurricane Gustav, and heeding him most of us did. But when it came time for his long-awaited address on homecoming, there was none of that urgency.
Realism is greatly appreciated in the assessment of the situation in New Orleans today, but Nagin revealed no clue of the dread and apprehension with which we forced our feet through the evacuation, our relief at the survival of our singular New Orleans life and our anxiety to get back to the homes we have fought so hard to rebuild.
Instead we get bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo about "tiers" and "placards" that few were aware existed prior to this week, defensive allusions to the decisions of other parish administrations and confusing advice out of both corners of the mouth about please-come-back but don't-plan-to-stay-right-away.
Our community has endured another psychological wallop from this flight from home and the holding-on and waiting-to-see that followed. True leadership should step up to inspire, encourage and thread together our common bonds for whatever comes next.
For an example, I'm turning back many pages of history to Winston Churchill and the words I've been unable to shake since Sunday night, the closing of his radio address to the people of France in 1940 after they were overrun by Nazi Germany:
"Goodnight then. Sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come. Brightly will it shine on the brave and true, kindly upon all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of heroes. Thus will shine the dawn.
"Vive la France!
"Long live also the forward march of the common people in all the lands towards their just and true inheritance, and towards the broader and fuller age."
Maybe I'm puffed up by the grand language, but the gratitude of knowing my home is intact, the relief that I'll find my neighborhood and favorite places more or less as I left them and that my friends sooner or later -- will be back there with me, gives a stirring feeling.
- Ian McNulty