Katrina+5: A Snapshot of The New New Orleans


What do 9/11 and the day you landed your first big job have in common?

In Psychology, they’re called Flashbulb Memories. Intense, vivid “snapshot” moments of your life when you remember almost every detail and second of a significant event; where you were, what you were doing, who you were with—they are long-lasting memories that can be recalled as easily as remembering what happened just a few seconds ago.

Five years ago today the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast experienced one of those extraordinary moments when Hurricane Katrina struck, an experience that continues to this day.

When it comes to sharing an experience there are no greater mass outlets than Facebook and Twitter. Within the last couple of days, I’ve continually seen other New Orleanians post statuses that say things like, “Five years ago today I was sitting with my family in so-and-so city watching the TV as Katrina hit New Orleans. I prayed, hoped, and cried…not realizing my life would forever be different from then on.” Whether they are still living in the city or have moved on, they all start with, “Five years ago today…” (On Twitter check #fiveyearsagotoday.)

To outsiders five years ago means one thing, the past. Most of the U.S. is tired of hearing about Hurricane Katrina. Believe me, so are we in New Orleans. Yet, for all the progress we’ve made in this city, it seems that many people still use the storm as a way to belittle the achievements of New Orleans, such as the Saints being “given” the Super Bowl. And now with the BP Oil disaster, more people seem to be rolling their eyes at our city, claiming we’re “dumb” for wanting to live here.

To New Orleanians, five years ago means a lifetime. If you’ve ever been on a job interview you know the significance of the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It’s a question many people don’t take seriously, though, I’m willing to bet you won’t find anyone, anywhere, who has reflected on that question more than the people of the Gulf Coast. Katrina has changed us forever, and mostly for the good. We look back five years. We look ahead. We take it all in and see where we are. In that moment we cry and laugh all at the same time. It’s kind of like being forced to fail so you can truly appreciate success.

Five years is a long time, yet so short. Over the next few days and years, you may see more Hurricane Katrina material on TV or online. Despite how the media may portray it, we don’t want you to feel sorry for us, heck, we don’t. We just want you to take stock of your life, appreciate it, and understand that at any moment, it could change in an instant. We just want you to remember like we do. You probably won’t be prepared for the Flashbulb Memories that await you—But hopefully when the time comes this advice at least helps you say, “cheese.”