Bill Little commentary: Helping them fly
The haunting melody played on the solo saxophone keeps weaving through the mind as we all struggle to balance what we have, with what we have lost.
It is the nature of Texans to rally to aid their neighbors. We saw it in the tragedy in Oklahoma City, when an outpouring of love and compassion crossed the Red River in waves.
Mack Brown and the Longhorns organized a blood drive the morning of the Bonfire collapse in College Station, as two universities traversed rivalries to bond in a very special way.
The Longhorn football team organized a drive to help the victims of Hurricane Andrew, but somehow, Florida seemed so very far away then.
In life, we deal in logic and emotion. Emotion stirs our logic in moments like 9/11, and Oklahoma City. We sense their pain, but the miles and the lack of immediate connection provide a buffer.
But the impact of the aftermath of the devastation of the central Gulf Coast, and particularly the city of New Orleans, strikes us at an entirely different level. This one goes straight to our hearts.
That is why, as I watched the television pictures showing the storm relentlessly churning toward the land, I cried.
At some point in our lives, we have all lived a little of the mystique of New Orleans. It might be a cup of coffee, a meal at the Bon Ton or any of the world class restaurants, or it might be moments of Bourbon Street, the oysters, or the piano bar at Pat O'Brien's.
I'm told those who have lived there might see it differently, just as a lot of Austinites may avoid the crowds on Sixth Street and the Warehouse District at all costs.
But the number one industry in New Orleans was the tourist industry, and in that sense, it has been a national treasure; one of those unique places like New York or San Francisco which touched our senses. We saw New Orleans, we smelled New Orleans, and we heard New Orleans.
On a summer Sunday morning some years ago, I remember stopping by the old French Market for a beignet and a cup of coffee, walking along the levee by the Mississippi River and pausing to listen to the man on the sidewalk playing his horn. An hour or so later, we saw him again, dressed in his Sunday-go-to-meeting suit and carrying his saxophone in its battered old case.
"Morning," I said. "How are you?"
As to all things that exist strictly on the surface, that's a greeting we all use, and never expect an honest answer.
Pick any of the above.
But this time, it was different.
He looked at me with piercing dark eyes, this grandson of slaves and troubadour of today.
"I choose to be happy," he said, as he hurried toward the big cathedral down the street.
Since Sunday, I have thought many times about the man, wondering if he was among the thousands who sought refuge in the Superdome, or was trapped on top of a house by rising water, or worse.
For me, the guy with a horn allowed me to take an event and make it personal. For others, it is a lot closer to home.
Texas football remembers the great trips to New Orleans to play Tulane, or in the Sugar Bowl. NCAA Men's and Women's basketball tournaments have held their Final Fours in the Superdome, the arena where 20,000 people sought refuge. The Hyatt Hotel which was battered so badly was the headquarters when the Longhorn men made the tournament just three seasons ago.
Greg Davis, the 'Horns offensive coordinator once served as the head football coach at Tulane. His son is an assistant on the current staff there. The Davis' daughter and her husband were moving from New Orleans to Dallas, and had just gotten a contract on the house they were trying to sell there. Both kids' houses are underwater.
Rob Lazare, the Longhorns assistant equipment manager who handles basketball, had relatives in New Orleans. At Rob's folks' home in Baton Rouge, there are now 22 people and 13 cats and dogs. His uncle's house in Metarie is surrounded by 12 feet of water.
The stories, for all of us, go on and on.
And in our sadness, we are called, and we want, to help.
The ambiance of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama touched us in part because of the scenes, the historic buildings, the rich tradition. Some of that, nothing can save. But what we know is, great restaurants and beautiful music are not about food and horns. They are instead, about the people who make them work.
And it is the people who will try to begin again.
That is why, in a moment prior to the Louisiana-Lafayette game Saturday, fans in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will be asked to help. In order to facilitate expeditious handling of support, fans will be urged to contribute directly to organizations such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or any established charity whose funds will go straight to aid for the victims.
If you want to help, the best way is to make a monetary donation. People who have no home and no where to go do not need stuff. The Red Cross has said that the disaster of the Gulf Coast is the largest undertaking they have faced in this country in their history.
Part of Saturday's game with Louisiana-Lafayette will be dedicated to the more than 20 members of that team who are from the New Orleans area. Once again, we are reminded that football, as important as it may seem at times, is just a game.
New Orleans and its sister cities on the Gulf Coast have always been resilient. The people have made it so.
The same day we met the man who stared down the troubles of life to "choose to be happy," the House of Blues Gospel Brunch featured the gospel song, "I believe I can fly."
And it is in that space that we must come from the heart. It is true, the residents of the cities which have touched us all will fly again.
But this time, they need our help.