Hurricane Zeta came tearing through Louisiana last week darkening homes, splintering trees in half, and shattering windows as it made landfall in New Orleans as a category 2 hurricane. For Tulane students, at this point the fall semester may seem like an exhausting uphill battle amidst mountains of school work, tensions between friends about how to handle the everlasting pandemic, the contentious election, and a hurricane season that has brought a record number of storms raging through the South.
During the eye of the storm, an eerie red/orange glow illuminated what had been a pitch black afternoon sky. Neighbors stepped outside to look at the glowing clouds. There was an inexplicable bond between the people who were standing on the streets peering at the sky and assessing the damage of the hurricane. The day after Zeta ripped through New Orleans, I went for a run, dodging piles of leaves and branches in an attempt to alleviate some of my stress and escape our dark house. Tulane students and families alike gathered outside their homes, brooms and rakes in hand sweeping and bagging up the debris that Zeta had left scattered behind. I was in awe of the friendliness I saw among neighbors on our street. Having not yet experienced the aftermath of an intense hurricane at Tulane, I was amazed and heartened by the sight of neighbors emerging from their homes to work together to clean up the damage. I had never met many of the neighbors that I saw on Thursday. I had never seen Audubon Park so packed with families walking and enjoying the sunshine as they waited for the power to return.
The following day, still without power, my roommates and I ventured out in an attempt to find a restaurant that might be open. We sat down at dinner without the bright distraction of our phones lighting up on the table to avoid sucking more battery power out of them. We talked and laughed and enjoyed the cool fall night while eating steaming ramen and edamame on Magazine. The weight of the stacks of assignments we all had lifted as the hurricane wiped power from New Orleans and dissolved the importance of arbitrary deadlines; there were much more important things at stake.
We headed home quietly, drained by the thought of unlocking the door to our dark, humid house illuminated only by battery operated lanterns, silently wondering if we could squeeze in one more shower before the water would begin to run cold. As we slowly traversed the pothole ridden dark street of Palmer Ave, crunching over fallen tree limbs, we accepted another night of darkness, until we reached the second half of the street. As we drove further down the street buried in the dark canopies of the oak trees we saw small glimmers of yellow glowing light. The streetlights on the second half of the street were on. We turned to one another with hope growing cautiously inside of us until we saw the porch light outside of our yellow house was illuminated brightly. I was overwhelmed with emotion at this small signal of power. Tears welled in my eyes with relief; it had only been a day and a half without power but the outage had brought with it the full weight of the reality of the semester we had endured so far. It felt like a breaking point, uncertain how much more we all were capable of carrying.
We stepped inside of our house, lights brightening up the formerly dark rooms, feeling more grateful than ever for the privilege of this simple necessity that we had taken for granted. COVID had flipped our lives upside down, Zoom classes filled our days, and loss of so much of the human interaction we were used to left us feeling empty. With each hurricane warning of the semester we had marched on. As classes shifted to Zoom only, or were rescheduled for Saturdays, we adapted. The semester was running at an accelerated pace packed with an intense workload and we spent what felt like the majority of our days in our rooms at home, doing school work. The election was bringing tensions to a raging peak, breaking apart friendships and dividing the nation. Judgment was being cast on every action others took from going out to dinner, to hanging out with friends, to posting a political statement on your Instagram story. Despite all of those obstacles, we were home in NOLA with 3 more weeks of senior year fall semester and filled with gratitude; the lights were back on and right now we couldn’t ask for more.
Cover Photo: Katy Brosnan