My good friend Jordan told me that I had to watch the Mardi Gras Indians on Saint Joseph's Day this year, since he was out of town and would have to miss it. I confessed to him that in six years, I'd never been out for Saint Joseph's. He was aghast.
I brought a friend who is spending his first year in New Orleans. When we got there, the streets were full of drums and bounce music, and people were swerving around erratically, laughing and shouting, and dancing and hollering. I remembered straightaway that I actually had seen this before. It was six years ago, when I still lived Uptown. I didn't know what was happening. I hadn't read anything about Mardi Gras Indians, or really any important New Orleanian traditions. I was blissfully ignorant of the hidden underground racism rooted in every institution in this country. I was just driving from my house to a basketball game, and the road was blocked for this big parade, where people were decked out in feathers so tall they swept the tops of the houses. I stopped my car, probably at the same intersection I intentionally planted myself last night, and watched for a while. Out of context, it was just the kind of magic this city so often bestows on those of us who humbly bear witness. Like a lightning bolt that hits the earth and decides to stay for a while.
I've grown desensitized to the magic since then. It's all the time, everywhere. And it's laced with hurt and complication, and I am careless around it now. But last night -- probably my final Saint Joseph's Day living in New Orleans -- I tried to let everything go. My friend was lit up, as one would have to be seeing the gorgeously loud, unhinged street parade for the first time. It was a tremendous gift to bask in the glow of that light, in the wild, sick-sweet night.