Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Sandy’s impact should affect us all

There were several factors involved in our decision to move from New Jersey to Arizona five and one half years ago, but if we had to boil it down to one reason, it was weather. We moved to Arizona for the weather.

Now, by “weather,” with regards to back east, I mean the brutally cold winters; de-icing the car on a dark, frigid Monday morning; blizzards and snowstorms that, great as they were as a kid, were nothing but inconvenient and dangerous as adults; incessant and unpredictable rain during all seasons that made it near impossible to make outdoor plans; unbearable summer humidity. By “weather” I never meant a natural disaster.

That’s what Superstorm Sandy was and is—a natural disaster. And it’s a very strange feeling to be here now, far removed from New Jersey and New York physically but not at all emotionally, spiritually. Our families and friends are all still there, and while they are all thankfully safe, they are living amidst the wreckage of a storm from which it seems impossible to fully recover.

I realize the Valley has its share of east coast transplants, but I find it necessary to extrapolate on what wrath this storm has wrought for those with no connections 2,500 miles away.

Anyone who has watched the news in the past two weeks knows that lives were lost; houses and places of business and livelihoods were destroyed; power has been out with no clear sign of its return in some areas; food and gas have been scarce and people are fighting for them as if characters in some post-apocalyptic movie. We’ve all seen the footage and heard the horror stories. If there’s one common theme running through all of the discussions we’ve had with family and friends back east—and remember, these are people who’ve endured Sandy relatively unscathed—it’s that no amount of footage can do justice to the first-hand reality.

Of everything lost with the exception of lives, and so much was lost, the most tragic has been dreams. Of a better life, one lived far removed from the everyday struggle, adjacent to the magnificent vastness of God’s blue ocean. My parents differed from nobody in their dream to be retired in a house down the shore. That dream has stemmed from childhood for generations of east coasters. Fill in the blank for the beach of choice everyone spent a great portion of their summers—ours was Point Pleasant. The ghosts of our childhood walked on creaky wooden boards and breathed in the salty air and wished it were possible to do this 365 days a year, not just the summer. Those summer days and nights made it possible to endure the less favorable weather detailed above. We chose to opt out, yet I’d always maintained a tinge of jealously when hearing about those days over the past half decade.

The Jersey shore is not damaged—it’s gone. It exists in basements miles away from where it once was, a path of destruction mapping its route. My parents never realized their dream, and now never will. Better that than those who did and watched it wash away.

The east coast deserves our prayers, donations, and empathy. Not just now, in the storm’s immediate aftermath, but indefinitely, when the news cycle has refreshed and our attention is again diverted.

The east coast should inspire us, too. In times like this, it’s common for an area to rally around its collective strength, and as someone with Jersey ties, I can say that strength is real. A few days ago my brother-in-law, after texting me some of the hardships and inconveniences they’ve been enduring, finished with this: “This Thanksgiving is going to be unlike any other.” If he feels that way then we should feel that way ten-fold from here, where the sun shines relentlessly.

Note: This column appears in the 11/8 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/9 issue of the Peoria Times.

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