Been Down So Long

My Facebook feed has had an odd serendipity today, yielding a wonderful article about what the Saints mean to New Orleans and a report that places Mississippi in the top ten happiest states in the country. In my mind, the two go hand in hand.

We been down so long, it looks like up to us. We’re practiced in making the best of our circumstances, and when you know how to eat peas and cornbread or beans and rice for every meal without ever thinking about what you can’t afford to go with it, life’s not so bad. It’s easy to be happy.

During the Great Depression, there were people in Mississippi who reported not really seeing much change. They were already poor. They were already living hand to mouth. They didn’t have far to fall.

For years, we’ve made celebrations when we had nothing, cheered the Saints when they were losing.

What are the two biggest cities in Mississippi? New Orleans and Memphis, the punch line says. In South Mississippi, New Orleans is our city. It was our city long before it was America’s city. And in a city where the same bands play for funerals and parades, we know all about celebrating through times of trouble.

That’s why the Saints in a winning season is such a big deal that even the poets are watching the games. We were going to party for the Saints come hell or high water. We hardly know what to do with the excess of excitement when we actually have reason to celebrate. Katrina’s destruction of the Dome and the horrors that took place there might add to the poignancy of happy faces cheering the home team in rebuilding New Orleans, but around here we would have been this worked up over a Saints winning season even if Katrina had never happened.

After Katrina, I remember reading an article–sorry I don’t remember who wrote it or where I saw it now–in which the reporter said upon touring the Mississippi Gulf Coast, “What these people need is a football game.” A distraction. Something to cheer for and feel good about no matter how dismal reality might be.

Well, yeah. Look at how big football is in the South. Look at how many Southern states have made the happiest states list. Those happiest states are also going to show up as having lower incomes, higher rates of illiteracy, higher rates of teen pregnancy, obesity, STDs, and heart disease. Who would guess this is where the happiness is?

Football. Mardi Gras. Gospel music. Parades. Beauty pageants. Festivals for every variety of tomato, pecan, or muscadine ever imagined.

What you need is football, you say. What you need is a home team to cheer for. Look at us. We’ve been down so long we don’t care. What do you think we’ve been doing all these years?