(Dec. 22) What the whole country is experiencing in these last days before Christmas has the same feel as what New Orleanians felt just before Christmas 15 years ago, less than four months after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of the Crescent City. There is a sense, just barely, of having survived the worst and the initial aftermath and then, finally, seeing a light in the distance.

This story starts, as most of my fondest Christmas stories start, at Trinity Episcopal School in New Orleans. Its annual Festival of Lessons and Carols service after the last day of December classes was always a thing of both warmth and of a sort of wobbly splendor that can only come when elementary schoolchildren are delivering most of the music and readings. My memories of it were so fond that I drove the two hours from Mobile, Alabama, 27 years after I graduated from Trinity just to see how the school pulled things together amid the post-Katrina squalor.

With so many homes in disrepair and so few businesses yet operating, the city had seen a mass diaspora of citizens to wherever they could find refuge: Baton Rouge, Houston, Atlanta, Florida, or wherever friends or relatives with spare living quarters could be found. School attendance was at perhaps half capacity even three months later, and some families had been split, with fathers roughing it in New Orleans, trying to keep businesses afloat, while wives and youngsters relocated to Memphis or Nashville or Dallas. Still, the Lessons and Carols service was such a beloved tradition that Trinity, short-staffed and only half-attended, went ahead with it anyway.

Of course, the service, with the children singing and bells ringing and a haunting rendition of “Silent Night” as the lights dimmed, was a joyful, tear-inducing marvel. But what I remember most was in the Parish Hall afterward, where alums and parents and children all mingled with lemonade and cookies at hand to see families that literally had just reunited that afternoon for the first time in months….

The sense, the joy-infused, faith-nurtured sense of both survival and renewal was palpable and stunningly fulfilling.

Well, that’s sort of the sense that is beginning to emerge for us nationwide in these past few days as newscasts show people getting vaccine shots and Congress finally passing another coronavirus relief package. There’s a feeling that while we’re still a long way from being “back to normal,” at least we’ve turned a corner, put the worst behind us, and seen a glimmer of light.

And speaking of things glimmering and shimmering, the so-called Christmas star conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on Monday really was wondrous….


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