Today, the Senior Youth group at my church led the service and New Orleans and Mardi Gras were the theme.
When our youth “minister” delivered her sermon, she pointed out how much this city has survived like Hurricane Katrina and the wave of Haitian immigrants who sought refuge in New Orleans after the Haiti Revolution of 1804 and that weathering all these challenges has made its people strong. But another tragic period in Nola history came to my mind because I’ve been reading about it in my great great great-grandfather’s letters: The Yellow Fever epidemic of 1853.
The first official Mardi Gras parade was held just 16 years before the 1853 epidemic in New Orleans. Yellow fever would continue to be a major health problem until the early 1900s when scientists finally figured out that mosquitoes (and not immigrants) were the lethal carriers of the disease. I wonder if Fat Tuesday parades carried on in the Crescent City in 1854 the way they did the year after Hurricane Katrina. I wonder if those celebrations were a bright spot, something to look forward to for a city that had lost an estimated ten percent of its inhabitants to a disease that made people cough up black blood.
Just a few days before he died of yellow fever in August of 1853, my third great-grandfather wrote, “Our city continues to labour under the affecting malady… some of the most touching incidents that I have ever heard of have been witnessed, too painful to relate.” The great spirit and dignity of his fellow New Orleanians seemed to give him solace in his final days. This reminded me of the solace I found in our flag after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 and the family picnic we had for my brother before he left for an 18 month tour of duty in Iraq. Like many Americans, I hung a flag on my front porch after the attacks and just looking at it temporarily absorbed the incomprehensible tragedy that occurred just 12 miles away in New York City and further south in Washington D.C.
What symbols, celebrations, or traditions are a solace for you?