If you watched SportsCenter this morning, you may have seen a segment titled “Dear New Orleans,” in which a few New Orleans residents read love letters they’d written to the city in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. One of those featured was Steve Gleason, the former ALS-stricken Saints safety who was shown composing his letter from his wheelchair using technology that allows him to type with his eyes. Gleason’s full letter to the city of New Orleans is embedded above. You might want to have a box of tissues handy.
The purpose of Gleason’s letter is to help raise money for Evacuteer, a non-profit dedicated to helping people evacuate the city in the event of a hurricane. Evacuteer was founded by Nebraska native Robert Fogarty, who moved to New Orleans as an Americorps volunteer after Hurricane Katrina. After living in the city for a few months he decided to stay and try to do something to make sure the sort of human tragedies that occurred during the Katrina saga, in which thousands were left stranded in a flooded city, never happened again. You can donate to the group here. You can also read more about Robert Fogarty and his efforts here.
And here’s the full text of 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.
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 are 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, two to five years. Like this city’s levees in 2005 my invincible body has failed me. But like the residents of a city built two 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 its hand, idealists double down. When the world retreats, idealists reinvent. Idealism isn’t for the faint-hearted or weak-minded. ALS and the water surrounding New Orleans have shattered our hearts a thousand times over, but 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 Super Bowl 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.
Steve, a New Orleanian