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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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Since I can only access e-mail at school now and grades are due this week, let me come right to the point and say “Bring on the parades!”

I am in this as deeply as anyone. I also wonder about when the debris will be removed, what the new building codes will be, whether I will move to Bay St. Louis or stay in Waveland, what is going to happen next at any given point in my day, and why I can’t find the new FEMA elevation guidelines on fema.gov. I have no idea what’s going on. One of my students allowed as how she knows a lot more since the storm. “Funny,” I replied. “I seem to know a lot less.”

The thing is, I have (with some degree of difficulty) come to terms with the fact that many of us, leaders included, do not know a whole lot right now. This situation is huge. I am distressed at how some community members are turning on each other. If anyone should understand how it feels to be in this mess, we should. We should be supporting each other instead of being muley and cantankerous. I live in a camper. Many of us do. It is a fact of life right now. It will be resolved eventually.

I keep thinking I’ve grown accustomed to my new surroundings, and then it hits me all over again. We need every bit of celebration we can get. Friday nights in New Orleans, when I’m on stage singing, the whole mess just sort of fades away and things seem right with the world for a while. It is my own personal celebration of life. I feel so fortunate that some of our gigs came back this quickly, otherwise I wouldn’t have much to count on for diversion. We need diversions! I love being diverted from destructive thoughts! We need moments to have fun and celebrate. We need times to laugh and cut up. And I’m glad our two cities are supporting that.

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After getting back to the coast from one weeks evacuation I just felt my feet go out from under me. My heart sank, I constantly found something to make me cry. Then we heard that the 2nd Saturday Art Walk in the Bay was going on. It was another dose of reality when we had to drive up, over and down to get there but when I got out of the car and heard the music and laughter I knew what it was about. People had come together to have that short time of being together and remembering how it had been and also how good it will be again. Along what is left of Beach Blvd. there was people standing and just watching the reflection of the setting sun across the bay, others were talking and walking about. It was the first time in all of those weeks that I had a feeling of hope for our future. Have you noticed that since the downtown area of Ocean Springs survived they are having gatherings quite frequently. This weekend around 20 musicians will gather for a benefit to raise money for other musicians that have lost so much. One step at a time, it will get better, but we have to get up and get going and smile and laugh. Find one thing each day to smile about -----

Heather, I couldn't agree more. When I'm immersed in my own music the world does indeed fade into the background and I am at peace, just enjoying the sounds I am making with my hands. Nothing else matters, and I can express my own feelings to myself in a way that is most meaningful to me. I remember one time (before the storm) when I was playing a piece that I had heard my mother play at home when I was still in high school...I loved it so much that I insisted that my piano teacher allow me to learn and play it for my senior recital. That was 23 years ago, and I kept the sheet music with me all that time (it, too, survived the storm). Playing it that afternoon last summer invoked that time long past, with all its pains and joys; I didn't realize until I was done that tears were streaming down my face. Now that's a nostalgia trip!

But you're right, though: one can only spend so much time hauling debris; sometimes ya just gotta look at something else for a while. Having had the privilege of seeing your act, I can only say "thank you" to you and Steve for sharing your talents with the rest of us, particularly in the face of your own loss; the world is a better place for it, and we are enriched thereby.

Diversions are necessary. You have to get it all out of your mind sometimes. If you don't, you'll just go nuts!

Fortunately for me, I've only been in Waveland for 25 of the last 81 days. But when I'm there, the stress and exhaustion in my friends and neighbors is obvious. Short tempers. Petty arguments. The tension affects me within hours of my arrival and for days after I've left. All symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. http://www.mentalhealth.com/dis/p20-an06.html

There is a future and it starts by living again -- little by little.

heather, as i read your and steve's diaries my heart continues to break. for you and everyone i came to love so much - your neighbors and friends, if i could take all of the pain from you, i would. waveland was much more for me than the town where my sister lived - it was a place that gave me hope and respite, i admired the people and longed to be like them.

there is no way to put my feelings into words. i toured a FEMA trailer this week that floored me. i can only hope that one day i will have the patience and strength that carries each of you through this battle.

i hope that you all enjoy your 'thanks for giving' parade, and that 2006 is a heck of a lot better.

My heart goes out to all of you...I feel so guilty as I read your letters. You see, I live up here in Wisconsin and my family celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday no differently than we did last year. My nieces talked about college, my siblings talked about vacations, my nephews talked about their Christmas lists, my mother-in-law talked about her 100th pair of new shoes, and everyone complained about their faulty cell phone plans, as we all gorged ourselves on the typical Thanksgiving feast. As grateful as I am I cannot feel a bit of envy for you....the ground has been whipped out from under you, you have had to start from scratch rebuilding and attempting to gain some stability, your thought process has been forever altered as you labor physically and emotionally every moment of your days...and we sit up here living selfish, redundant, much less honorable lives, forgetting about you down there. How embarrassing!!!

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