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New Beginnings Require Old Endings


I have a desire to make a new beginning. (Pardon the vagueness. I’ll expand on that later.) Paradoxically that has me thinking about endings as well. New beginnings require old endings.

Plant a sunflower seed and, with some water and sunlight, you start a new life. But there is no new life without death. Life implies death, requires it. Old dead plants make fertile soil for new fresh shoots. There’s no new beginning without an old ending.

Another example might be the Lafitte Corridor project I’ve been involved with for so long, which just completed the first phase of planning. The greenway will be a new public space amenity. It will be beautiful and a great asset to the community. But in order for this new use to blossom, the old uses had to die. If the railroad line hadn’t been pulled up, we wouldn’t be talking about a greenway now.

Looking at it from the other side, so to speak, divorce is yet another example, much on my mind lately. It seems a lot of couples I know have gotten divorced in the past year, or are in the process right now, or wrestling with the possibility. Divorce is an ending, the end of a story, the end of a particular chapter in at least two lives. It can be painful and messy. It’s certainly awkward in cases where I’m friends with both parties, but I know my discomfort is a fraction of the mental anguish for those directly involved.

(And why this seeming rash of divorces over the past year? Perhaps it’s an illusion. Perhaps I’ve simply reached a certain age. And yet, ridiculous as it may sound, I can’t help but wonder if Al and Tipper Gore have something to do with it. They announced their divorce just over a year ago, and since then I’ve seen so many marriages on the rocks that I have lost count.)

But divorce is also a beginning, the beginning of a new story, a new chapter. Hopefully there’s some improvement. If the marriage was happy and healthy it would not have ended, or so I presume. New beginnings require old endings.

And yet truly new things are very rare indeed. According to one writer a couple millennia ago, there’s “nothing new under the sun.” The sunflower isn’t truly new, because the seed came from a previous generation of plants. The greenway will merely be the latest re-imagining of a transportation corridor that’s been in place for centuries. After divorce, the same people still exist; only their circumstances and relations have changed.

It might be better, then, to speak of transformations, rather than beginnings and endings. If one thinks of divorce as a transformation, rather than an ending, does that make it any less scary, less difficult? I honestly don’t know.

A friend of mine shared a story of transformation recently. He lives far from here; we communicate mostly via an electronic forum. We have wrangled often about the future of New Orleans, and it’s gotten downright ugly sometimes. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when he sent the following, which I’ve edited to remove identifying information. This may seem digressive at first, but I promise to tie it all together.

I’d like to jump on this thread again and talk about how my attitude towards New Orleans has changed given the time I’ve spent there over the past year.

After Katrina hit, it was hard for me to understand why so many people were so passionate about rebuilding a city that may very well suffer the same calamity and results in the future. After all, over the years, the city had sunk below sea level, and we would have to invest in fixing infrastructure that didn’t work when Katrina hit. Was the cost of not only replacing failed infrastructure, but engineering better infrastructure, worth it? Why would we take the risk? Would, or even “could,” it be done right?

If all you know of New Orleans is Bourbon Street, then you’d think as I did. Bourbon Street is a circus that, really, could happen anywhere. You could reproduce it ala Hollywood movie set, and as long as there were three-for-one drinks, cover bands, and girls showing their tits, you’d find ample people to visit.

But I’ve spent time wandering around, walking around, and finding places I didn’t think could exist. My last trip, I was alone, and I spent a few evenings walking an estimated four miles a night finding places that aren’t geared towards the tourists. I’ve watched Travel Channel, Food Channel, etc, and have even done online research on places of interested. The more I look, the more I want to see (and the more I want to eat).

I’ve watched the locals interact. And, I can honestly say that New Orleans is original. The locals move differently. I travel all over the country, and there aren’t locals like those in New Orleans anywhere else.

So, I’m glad New Orleans is recovering. I can’t wait to return.

When I read this, it brought a tear to my eye, not merely because I feel the same way, though of course I do, but because of the transformative aspect. It’s really so rare for adult people to “come around,” to change our minds on anything. But my friend has done it. He sees the power of actually coming to this place and being here awhile. (Incidentally, that’s why some very prominent activists made a concerted effort to get every member of Congress down here for a visit, though I doubt they get to ramble around like my friend.) Yet again, I have to stress, however cool or magical or real or soulful or unexpected or whatever this place is, how much cooler (et cetera) is the space where my friend is now. He seems to be in a transformational phase. He is opening up, coming alive to possibilities that were closed before.

Furthermore, I suspected this change of heart might have something to do with his recent divorce. Sure enough, he subsequently described the stresses and strains which led to a difficult but necessary revelation:

I had to let go. I had to throttle my ego. I had to accept the smallness of my existence and my influence. And, as a result, I’ve had to become an old dog willing to learn new tricks.

New beginning require old endings. We’re never the same person twice. We just resemble the person we were the day before, more or less. Usually more. But in periods of transformation we may seem to change radically, to become a new person. The old person, the person we were, has to die.

As a society, it seems to me, we desperately need a new beginning. We can’t get one because we’re chock-full. We’re too busy. Something’s gotta give. Something’s got to end, to die, to allow the transformation we require to live.

As for me, I want to make a new beginning too. No, Xy and I are not getting a divorce. But I’m feeling the need to make some changes. In fact I’m already making them.

Again, I apologize for the vagueness, but this has gotten far too lengthy already. I hope that next time I can write about my intentions, and so many other things. It may take a while. Be patient with me.

Tangents: There’s a soundtrack for this post. You may also want to take a look at my review of Last and First Men.

Published inKatrinaNew Orleans


  1. Martin Martin

    I think I might know where you’re going with this, so I hope you’ll pardon the following:

    Vagueness is o.k. Transition – true transition – is often vague, primarily because the transition, whatever was involved, wasn’t intended and catches one by surprise and without a ‘plan’. I have experienced this myself on many occasions during my almost 3/4 of a century on the planet (two divorces, a number of abrupt, 90-degree changes in life direction, etc.).

    And yes, the death of the old is necessary for the birth of the new – which is something I believe our ‘culture’ or society is undergoing right now.

    There are those who decry the apparent demolition-from-within of our current way of life, myself among them, but I am also aware that something new and perhaps better will replace it because of a new awareness on the part of at least enough of the populace to make it so. As bad as things may seem, I applaud the unmasking of the duplicity and insanity that has risen up like a heavy fog from the swamps to envelop us all in its strangling grip.

    I believe we will rise above it both individually and collectively now that its ugly face has been uncovered

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