I don’t know how to begin in writing about Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath. It is devastating. The photos of the wreckage. The tales of loss. Even the silver linings like neighbors helping neighbors. All of it has taken me directly back to 9/11/01, a horror the likes of which New Yorkers hoped and believed we’d never see or feel again.
Hubby and I lived in Manhattan then. All who did (and many who did not) have stories of that day: where they were, what they saw, how they suffered. We were among the fabulously lucky and have not felt the need to establish our bonafides by bragging about our near escapes. I used to get frustrated with people who felt otherwise, sharing hearsay stories of a roommates’ cousin whose colleague lived in Jersey City and saw a cloud of smoke…this Baconesque six degrees of separation didn’t and doesn’t impress me. Why the need to draw ourselves further into the tragedy? At a volunteer shift at Ground Zero that fateful September, I knelt in the mud to scrub the dust, debris, and remains off of the boots of search and rescue team members before they entered Red Cross headquarters. I will never, ever forget what I saw in their eyes, and from then on I never understood why people would endeavor to connect themselves to such a calamity.
I am originally from the southern shores of Long Island, the beachy suburbs turned waterlogged disaster areas. My parents’ house, while not condemned or completely destroyed, took a beating in the storm. Water filled the basement completely and started its muddy ascent up the first floor. A room on the back of the house detached itself and started a journey towards the bay. The chimney peeled off with the house’s vinyl siding. The neighbor’s boat dock came ashore and hammered into my childhood home like a battering ram. Even now, a week later, the house remains soggy, smelly, gaping with holes, and devoid of light or heat. My Facebook feed, vastly populated by the status updates of others who grew up there, bears witness to the destruction: tales of friends’ homes and family businesses, all lost to the storm.
Though I’m overjoyed that my new home (and the new-home-to-be) was rattled but largely undamaged by the storm, my heart is currently in my old hometown. And I finally understand what people were doing in connecting themselves, however remotely, to the horrors of 9/11. We may be on the outside but we feel like we somehow belong on the inside. We connect ourselves in any way possible because it just doesn’t feel right to not be affected. We don’t know how to help, and we don’t know what to do. So we draw ourselves in, telling our stories of parents without power and friends without FEMA. We are sad, and we are helpless. Little shards of our hearts still lived at the beach and we’re worried that they washed away with the tide. All we want to throw the line and keep ourselves moored, however tenuous the thread.
**For anyone looking to help in a particularly local way, the North Shore LIJ Health System has created a fund to assist employees in critical need of aid. You can read more or make a donation at: http://www.northshorelijhelps.com/how-to-help/