Wednesday, September 07, 2005


It was only a month ago that we were reading the Book of Lamentations on the ninth of Av, mourning the destruction of a great city thousands of years ago, weeping over the exile of its inhabitants.

It sounds all too familiar today.

Once again, a great city lies in ruins, its citizens exiled. The difference, aside from a few thousand years, is that the destruction was from the forces of nature rather than from the hand of Man - never mind that the hand of Man was responsible for creating such a uniquely vulnerable metropolis.

Lamentations strikes just the right note. Maybe one day, in some nameless future time, the descendants of today’s New Orleanians will sit on the floor in a darkened room on August 26, and read, in a hushed voice, a Modern Lamentation:
  1. O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the States, a princess among the provinces, has become tributary.
  2. She weeps, yea, she weeps in the night, and her tears are on her cheek; she has no comforter among all her lovers; all her elected officials have betrayed her.
  3. Her citizens went into exile because of flood, storm, and affliction; they settled among the many States, [and] found no rest.
  4. The roads of N’Awlins are mournful because no one comes to the appointed season; all her gates are desolate, her priests moan; her maidens grieve while she herself suffers bitterly.
  5. And gone is from the daughter of N’Awlins all her splendor; her princes were like harts who did not find pasture and they departed without strength before [their] pursuer.
  6. All her people are sighing [as] they search for bread; they gave away their treasures for food to revive the soul; see, O Lord, and behold, how I have become worthless.
  7. All of you who pass along the road, let it not happen to you. Behold and see, if there is any pain like my pain, which has been dealt to me, [with] which the Lord saddened [me] on the day of His fierce anger.
  8. For these things I weep; my eye, yea my eye, sheds tears, for the comforter to restore my soul is removed from me; my children are desolate, for nature has prevailed.
  9. N’Awlins spreads out her hands [for help], but there is none to comfort her.
  10. They have heard how I sigh, [and] there is none to comfort me.
  11. My eyes are spent with tears, my innards burn; my heart is poured out in grief over the destruction of the daughter of my people, while infant and suckling faint in the streets of the city.
  12. They say to their mothers, "Where are cornbread and wine?" as they faint like one slain, in the streets of the city, while their soul ebbs away on their mothers' bosom.
  13. What shall I testify for you? What shall I compare to you, O daughter of the Delta? What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of N’Awlins? For your ruin is as vast as the sea - who can heal you?
  14. How dim the gold has become, [how] changed is the fine gold jewelry! The holy stones are scattered at the head of every street.
  15. The precious children of N’Awlins, praised with fine gold; how they are regarded as earthen pitchers, the work of a potter's hands!
  16. The tongue of the suckling child cleaves to his palate through thirst; the young children beg [for] bread, [but] no one breaks it for them.
  17. Those who used to eat dainties are perishing in the streets; they that were reared on crimson clasp the dunghills.
  18. Our heritage has been turned over to strangers, our houses to aliens.
  19. We have become orphans and fatherless, our mothers are like widows.
  20. Our water we have drunk for payment; our gasoline needs must come by purchase.
  21. We are pursued [with a yoke] on our necks; we toil but it does not remain with us.
  22. We have stretched out our hands to Texas [and to] Georgia to get enough food.
  23. Our fathers have sinned and are no more, and we have borne their iniquities.
  24. Slaves rule over us, [and] there is none to deliver [us] from their hand.
  25. With our lives we bring our bread, because of the sword of the wilderness.
  26. Our skin is parched as by a furnace because of the heat of hunger and the lack of air-conditioning.
  27. They have outraged women in N’Awlins [and] maidens in the cities of the Delta.
  28. Princes were hanged by their hands, elders were not shown respect.
  29. Young men carried the millstones, [and] youths stumbled under [loads of] wood.
  30. The elders have ceased from the [city] gate, the young men from their music.
  31. The joy of our heart has ceased, our dancing has turned into mourning.
  32. The crown of our head has fallen, woe to us, for we have sinned.
  33. For this our heart has become faint, for these things our eyes have grown dim.
  34. For N’Awlins, which has become desolate; looters prowl over it.
  35. [But] You, O Lord, remain forever; Your throne endures throughout the generations.
  36. Why do You forget us forever, forsake us so long?
  37. Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.

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