One night in March I was clicking the TV remote control through those late night talking head news shows when I was stopped cold by a news item. There was a picture of a headline from the next day’s “Wall Street Journal.” The headline said that America was about to enter, “a long, dark period.” What!
We had been hearing about the virus spreading in spots throughout the world, but that was everywhere else’s problem.
Perhaps I should have taken seriously when, during Mardi Gras, there was a picture in the newspaper of a solitary masker in Venice. The Carnival celebration had been cancelled there because of this virus. Our Mardi Gras, however, had been bright, boisterous and successful.
On New Year’s Day, I had experienced an abundance of black-eyed peas and cabbage, guaranteed, sort of, to bring luck and wealth. The year started off well: The economy was good, LSU beat Clemson for the College Football Championship and the town, already blessed by a Saint name Drew, was excited by a giant named Zion.
March, though, was when life began to hurt. That month is ordinarily one of the most celebratory in the city’s calendar. As spring blooms, there are the celebrations of the Irish and the Italians. St. Patrick’s Day is usually an occasion for gathering outside of bars to worship the saints with a mug of beer. This year, however, the police rolled in and broke up the crowds. Celebrations are in the city’s soul, now they were banned. Being social morphed into social distancing.
Over the weeks and months ahead, events began to fall like tin cans on a shooting range. French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, any fest of any sort, plus theater and sports events. They were banned too.
We know the rest; our lives changed. Pity those who planned big weddings or graduation parties. At least the face masks hid their frowns.
Restaurants, bars – all were forbidden territory.
In a year of restrictions only hurricanes were bountiful. They attacked from all sides, seemingly from A to Zeta. They showed their power and took away ours, leaving us in the dark.
We all know where we have been in 2020, though we are less sure of where we are heading.
Mercifully, the Christmas season comes just in time to see off a bad year – an old acquaintance best forgotten.
This is the season when music helps soothe the soul. To New Orleans’ credit, the city is home to one of the most beautifully performed songs ever, Aaron Neville’s rendition of “Ave Maria.”
All of the lyrics, beginning with Ave Maria, Gratia plena (Hail Mary, full of grace), are in Latin but this allows space for the angels within us to sing, perhaps of a yearning for hope, and joy. And to wish:
May your new year be sincerely happy.
May our celebrations be rewarded and not raided.
May we wear masks only at Carnival.
May there be a Jazz Fest, and may we get to hear Aaron Neville’s mighty falsetto.
And may there be a chicken in every pot. With black-eyed peas and cabbage on the side.