“Good morning, God.”
This is a ritual, a looking-out-the-window thing between me and God every morning. My feet hit the floor and I pull back the curtain to look at the new day–a brand new batch of mercies–and I say good morning to the One who made it all fresh and new.
Only this time I haven’t slept. I’m not pulling back my bedroom curtains, I’m taking off into the sky. I’ve worked through the night and taken the earliest possible flight to New Orleans. I look out the window and say good morning to God and something spectacular happens. The darkness disappears into a flash of crimson sunrise like none I’ve ever seen.
It takes my breath away.
Every shred of heartache I’ve felt for the last month is suddenly diminished. Warm oil flows through my veins like Lortab entering the blood system. Yeah. I said that. I’ve had back surgery . I know what narcotics feel like when they enter the blood stream and go to work blocking the neurotransmitters that send messages to brain letting you know that you’re in pain. I also know that it is a pathetic imitation of the feeling you get when you are heart-to-heart with the Almighty God.
“Did you see that?” I ask Breezy.
“I’ve never seen colors like that,” she replies.
We’re headed to New Orleans because we believe. And not just that. It is time and we feel this thing in the deepest depths….the place where knowing happens…and we wouldn’t miss it for the world.
We land at Louis Armstrong International Airport and step outside. The air feels right when we breathe it into our lungs. This is our home-away-from-home, a place I fell in love with 30 years ago. I was fifteen. The Saints were thirteen.
Wednesday afternoon is spent shopping for Saints apparel. My daughter chooses a jersey adorned with a Saints Fleur de lis topped with a halo–so fitting for her and for this occasion. We head to El Gato Negro for our first meal, a place that has spoiled us so much that don’t go out for Mexican food at home anymore. I almost hate it when that happens…because then you have to try to duplicate the food at home because there isn’t a restaurant that comes close. In the middle of our chicken enchilada dinner, two gentlemen at the next table begin to pray. We bow our heads in silence, join our hearts in agreement, and look at one another in peaceful contentment after they say “in Jesus name…”
That was February 3, 2010.
Today I tuned into the football game. I could never be a dude. Never. Most often when I watch a game, it is necessary to do something else to maintain my sanity. There is something about elevated blood pressure and unnecessary adrenaline rush that depletes me of much-needed energy stores. I move tons of weight at work. Literally. I do a man’s work but I could never truly be a man. Not to mention that I wouldn’t want to adjust all that stuff just to zip a zipper.
I swept the floors and washed, dried and folded laundry. I cooked for my grandbabies, made some kick-ass corn bread, and all the while, kept up with the score. When it was over, my husband quietly said, “I’m sorry.”
Breezy came quietly and said, “I’m sorry.”
When I pulled into the parking lot at work and saw my second-born son walking my direction, I rolled down the window and he said, “I’m really sorry about the Saints.”
I went into work, met by glances of sympathy. And yet…it was ok. Of course I was disappointed, but it was ok.
Last year was magical. There will always be that. And look: they defied the odds yet again. Super Bowl Curse? What’s that? They say that when a team wins the Super Bowl one year, they fall way below expectations the following year so badly that they don’t even make the playoffs.
That didn’t happen. This year was still pretty magical when you really know the history of this team.
February 5, 2010: We wake at 4 a.m. Breezy, Betsy, and I descend the winding staircase at Olivier House and we pass Lucas who does a double-take. Many visitors are just coming in for the night at that time but he’s already told us how weird we are for staying home every night and going to bed early. “Why are y’all up so early?” he asks.
“Good Morning America is about to do their show live from Jackson Square,” we tell him, continuing down the stairs, through the glorious entry, out the front door, and onto the Toulouse Street sidewalk.
The morning is absolutely beautiful as we walk toward the river and then when we turn left at Chartres, we enter the surreal world of misfits.
We feel right at home.
There is a Saints Skeleton, a Saints Elvis, there is Supa Saint. There is Kermit Ruffins & the Bar-b-que Swingers and Mardi Gras Indians, majestic in feathers. There are chefs with delicious food offerings doing a cooking demonstration. There is Black and Gold everywhere. People are speaking the same language and chanting in unison a phrase that people Anywhere Else USA might not understand. I turn and look behind me and see Stacy, the girl my dear friend Lisa introduced me to last summer as we visited in the courtyard of Place d Armes. She poses for a photo with Phinneus (the garden gnome who travels with us everywhere and belongs to a neighbor we’ve never met). Kermit poses with Phinneus. Another girl hollers at me from a distance, a St. Bernard Parish accent I recognize well. “Hey….hey! Why do you have a garden gnome?” she asks.
I look around…a very unconventional girl feeling more conventional than most in this crowd…and I find myself wanting to answer her question with questions because her question perplexes me so: “Why is that guy dressed like Elvis? Why is that girl dressed like a buxom pirate? Why is that dude dressed like a giant whistle? Why is he dressed like a Voodoo Man and that older lady like a flapper?”…..but I don’t. Instead I simply answer, “Because he goes where we go and he likes being here best.”
And so the weekend continues.
It is Mardi Gras Lite, the weekend before The Big Weekend. Excitement fills the air during Carnival under normal circumstances but there is something extra special this time. If you can manage to sleep through a night filled with hollers of “WHO DAT!!!” spoken with more passion than Stanley hollering for STELLA!!! you will wake to a festive morning vibe that is somehow more reverent.
The early highlight on Sunday was the Krewe of Barkus Parade. It provided a good diversion while we waited.
Just before kick-off, we joined hands to pray–Breezy, Betsy, and I. We settled in, centered around the coffee table in our living room where laughter always happens and watched in silence.
I could easily say that the rest is history. But it was so much more than that. Into the second quarter, my dear friend, Ride, called us over to pick up a copy of his screenplay. You might ask why we left while the game was in progress. It goes back to “I could never be a dude….elevated blood pressure…unnecessary adrenaline rush…”. Besides, it was only a 2 minute walk. And that’s where we were when we first felt the city vibrate with pure joy. We were back home by the beginning of the fourth quarter–the part that mattered most. When the Saints play, you just never know until the very last minute, kind of like the way God often comes riding to the rescue at 11:59.
I could try to describe the sound of the city that night but I know that my words could never do it justice. I could try to describe what we saw on Bourbon Street, only half a block from our front door—a street that is witness to revelry on any given night was witness to reverence and respect on the night of Super Bowl XLIV. Instead of tourists, it was locals that walked from one end of the street to the other, a steady flow of human traffic that didn’t thin for 3 hours. Uptown, downtown, Ninth Ward, Projects. Eyes locked, smiles exchanged, high-fives were slapped, arms embraced—and sometimes people just lifted others right off their feet to spin them around in a celebratory dance like folks who actually know one another might do. One project boy stepped into our small circle to hide, “I don’t want anyone to see me cry,” and so he stood in the safety of nurture until the tears quit flowing and I’ll never delete the image of his beautiful face from my cell phone.
But what makes the magic live on so profoundly is that it took 42 years. That is the kind of magic that doesn’t diminish in a year or two or even three. Not for the generations who have loved this team for all that time…and I’ve never seen a region that loves it’s team the way this region loves their Saints. They loved their Saints when the rest of the world had long given up. It is a contagious thing and the most beautiful part of this story is that all those years of love…the unwavering hope and faith and belief…the love with no conditions attached…was returned ten-fold.
The Saints loved their city back to life when the rest of the world had simply given up.
Just before our plane took off the next morning, Southwest Airlines blasted K. Gates’ “Black and Gold to the Super Bowl”. The Jazz Fest Man across the aisle muted Papa Roach on his Ipod and sang. The mom and dad with their two little boys who sat in front of him sang. The NASA engineer sitting in the seat next to me sang. Up and down the aisle, people of all ages sang their hearts out to one of the many songs written and recorded by a New Orleans musician about the team they’ve loved for a lifetime.
And Breezy finally realized how very normal I was.
I’ve often heard February 7, 2010 referred to as The Miracle in Miami. But for those of us who spent any time in the city of New Orleans that year…we completely understood that we were in the midst of something Holy.
As our plane ascended into the Heavens, I looked down to read the front page of the Times Picayune that rested in my lap. For the first time in a very long time, I didn’t need my reading glasses.