And if you’re feeling particularly patriotic you can tie it into your thoughts about the election and, well, democracy in general and if you’re feeling kinda woo-woo you can work in 2012 predictions and if you’re in a bit of an environmental mood you can toss in some somber words about climate change.
This is not that post.
The truth is, I really don’t want to talk about the hurricane at all.
Not because I’m sick of Sandy. Not because I don’t care. Not because I don’t have anything to say.
Because I’m not over it. Because I’m actually very…in it. Because I really, really care. Because I have so much to say that anything I try to say feels like a deep, violent insult to myself, the planet and everyone that lives on it.
It’s true that some people know what’s going on here and just don’t care – a stance I totally understand and respect. If I had a nickel for all the incidents of suffering I’ve ignored in my life, for all the causes to which I’ve intentionally gone numb, for all the doom and gloom I’ve shut out and refused to let penetrate in a desperate attempt to just get by...well, I’d have a large piles of nickels to donate by now.
I write because every now and then I get a script I just can’t buy into.
Person A and Person B run into each other for the first time since Before Sandy.
A: Oh, hey, Person B, it’s SO good to see you!
B: Hi! Yes, it’s great to see you too.
They embrace, fist pump, air-kiss, or other greeting appropriate to their particular socio-ethno-economic position.
One of them sighs and the other looks around uncomfortably for a moment, gathering her energy to battle the elephant just off to the side.
A: So I was thinking about you in the storm…how…have you been?
[The tone of this ranges from genuinely inquisitive to distractedly polite to deeply sympathetic, depending on what A has already heard/seen on Facebook/intuits about B’s situation, or what A can deduce from the geographic location of B’s home and/or place of business - tempered with the severity or lack thereof of A’s respective experience.]
Then B must give a brief but rehearsed report of what happened during and after the storm – whether or not she lost power, had damage, evacuated elsewhere or hosted evacuees. B will either tone up or town down the drama so as to impress/not offend/match B’s expectation of what A is about to deliver.
A is then required to do the same.
If either or both were lucky enough to remain relatively unscathed, then whatever low-grade hardship they describe must include the following qualifier on the tail end:
B: But it’s nothing like what some people are going through in [certain part of Staten Island/Rockaways/Lower Manhattan/New Jersey]…oh, it’s just awful!
A nods emphatically, grateful to be moving on to the next beat, and, to be fair, genuinely relieved to hear that her friend is okay.
Perhaps A has done some volunteering (or donating) for the relief effort, and this is A’s moment to proudly but subtly put it out there. She may be bragging or genuinely trying to spread awareness and recruit additional support for the cause. If B can match or beat it she will do so immediately, and they will rejoice in their new respect for each other and may even make plans to co-ordinate efforts.
More than likely B has been “meaning to” get involved, and will launch into a long and uncomfortably detailed explanation of why she hasn’t so far. She will soon catch herself, blush and mumble something like:
B: But enough about me. I just think that is SO great that you’ve been helping out...
(Note: if both have been doing relief work, the unspoken competition will become about who has done more. Same themes and relationship dynamic apply.)
This is by no means the only dialogue happening around recent events. But I’d wager a whole lot of nickels that if someone actually monitored just how many versions of this conversation were happening all over the city - some people would really start to question whether New York is really the creative capital everyone says it is.
Is Hurricane Sandy the new 9/11? The landmark historical event that redefines civic identity and permeates the social landscape?
I wasn't living in the U.S. in 2001, so perhaps am not qualified to surmise in this way…but one thing that strikes me as alarmingly different in this situation (and of course, there are many differences), is that, I imagine, after 9/11 there wasn’t a whole lot people could do.
Here and now, there is a lot people can do.
What concerns me is how many people – both in New York and beyond – are actually under the mistaken impression that everything is back to normal around here.
We're all playing an awkward game of Citizen Roulette. You can’t always tell by looking at someone who they are: Victim, Evacuee, Volunteer, Donor, Bereaved, Shell-shocked Homeowner, Indifferent Being, Some-of-the Above, etc.
Or maybe...maybe we are back to normal. And for the first time in a long time or maybe ever, a whole lot of people have started to realize that 'normal' isn't working, that 'normal' isn't okay.
How many New Yorkers have recently felt that peculiar blend of compassion and curiosity towards a homeless person, only to be relieved to learn that they were 'homeless before'? It makes sense and it doesn't, right?
It makes sense and it doesn't.
I watched a YouTube clip the other day of volunteers digging through the remnants of a flooded basement. "There's just, like, everything you would have in a basement here...whiskey bottles..." as he picks up random items amidst the rubble.
Without going out on too woo-woo of a limb, I think there's an important metaphor in that.
It's like the storm came and has shaken up and flooded out everything that's been in the basement of a city, of a state and a nation - everything we fought so hard to sweep under the rug is now in a big, dirty pile in front of us, for all our neighbors and all the world to see.
But this is not that hurricane post.
So if you’re like B and have been meaning to get involved, but don't know how or where or if your skills will be useful, below you’ll find a list of where you can go to plug in.
Where you can help:
If you don’t know where to begin, I strongly recommend starting with Occupy Sandy, for the simple reason that everyone and anyone is welcome, you can give as much or as little time as is right for you according to a schedule that suits you, and they are in constant communication with all of the other organizations below.
Regardless of your opinions/judgements/pre-conceived notions of the Occupy movement (oh, my, and I had so many!), I promise you don’t need to be 23, a hipster and committed to railing against The Man all day. It’s not that kind of deal. I personally have been on the ground and in the field and it really is a motley crew of diverse individuals from all walks of life putting aside their differences and working together for a common goal. For real for real. Amazing, eh?
Most of the following organizations are actively recruiting for short- and long-term volunteers. In lieu of or in addition to your time, all will accept your money and many will also accept gifts in kind (please check carefully for what is actually needed).
Please check out:
I have been actively following, communicating with or working with the above organizations and feel comfortable personally recommending them.
If you know of others, feel free to add them in the comments section.
And if you're really keen: take the time to find all of the above on Facebook and/or Twitter for the most up-to-date information and requests. Websites can be kind of ancient technology when it comes to grassroots relief efforts.
Thank you for ploughing through yet another blog about Hurricane Sandy, even though...this is not that hurricane post.
It's this one.