To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Steve Gleason partnered with Evacuteer.org — an organization that recruits and trains volunteers to aid in the case of a city evacuation — to write a love letter to New Orleans.
Below is Steve Gleason’s letter.
DEAR NEW ORLEANS,
I was born amongst the mountains and cool, clear rivers of the Pacific Northwest, a place that is different from New Orleans, in seemingly every single way. I first moved to New Orleans nearly 15 years ago to play for the Saints. At the time, I was fighting to find a home in the NFL. A decade and a half later, I can proudly say I am a New Orleanian.
For me and the city, it wasn‘t necessarily love at first sight. I was struggling to make an NFL squad whose facility is in the suburbs. After practice, I was stored in a stale apartment complex, near the airport. My second season, I was cut during training camp.
After being home, in Spokane, WA for a few weeks, I was only shipped back to New Orleans, because one of the Saints practice squad guys shot himself in the knee. After that second year, I was able to explore the city. I liked what I found.
New Orleans is a small city which resonates of family. Dysfunctional at times, but surely a family. It seems a normality now, but while exploring those first few years, I was astonished by the closeness of the families I met. I love New Orleans, but I understand that this city is not for everyone. If you‘re a clean freak, the city will likely give you hives. If you‘re intolerant of creative expression the city will overwhelm you. Are you confined to a schedule, punctuality or structure? Good luck. If you‘re the reclusive, solitary type, the city will open you up like a can of sardines, or maybe a lotus flower. If you‘re vaunting or spotless, the city will expose your humanity and promptly celebrate your stains. If you‘re the type of person who surrenders when adversity strikes, you won‘t last through hurricane or football season.
In 2011 I was diagnosed with a hurricane of a disease. ALS… Terminal. Death. 2 – 5 years. Like this city’s levees in 2005, my invincible body has failed me, but like the residents of a city built 5 feet below sea level, I choose to be an idealist. We simply must be steadfast, maniacal idealists. When the world sees tragedy, idealists see opportunity. When the world folds it‘s hand, idealists double down. When the world retreats, idealists reinvent. Idealism isn‘t for for the fainthearted or weak-minded. ALS and the waters surrounding New Orleans, have shattered our hearts a thousand times over. Somehow, like the local banana tree, our enduring hearts piece themselves back together each and every time. Rebuild. Rebirth. Repeat.
Many people say the 2006 Saints gave hope to the people of New Orleans. I see it differently. When I blocked the punt on that Monday night, with the world watching, I was buoyed by a stadium and a city full of preposterous, hair-brained, unyielding and passionate – idealists. We call them “Who Dats”.
This city breeds and attracts unique, outrageous people. Bedraggled people who are honest enough to consecrate their shortcomings.. Innovative people who see opportunity where others see chaos. Humble people who honor the mosquito and the cockroach. Transparent people who will share with you, whether you like it or not. Persistent people who rebuild when their city or their lives fall apart. Fierce people who protect what they love, and love a great deal.
I helped win the first playoff game in Saints history. I have a Superbowl ring, and a 9 foot statue outside my old office, the Superdome, but what i enjoy most about New Orleans is the infatuated, idealist citizens and the pervasive, wholly nourishing culture of family.
A New Orleanian