NRA Spokesman Wayne LaPierre stated that we should take this horrifying moment of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting as an opportunity to get at the real issues. He is right. There is little doubt that we need to reflect on our true natures, who we are, what we have done, who we have loved and cared for, who we have shunned and hurt. We need to recognize that it starts in all of us and, only after genuine, tough reflection, can we offer what we have learned to others. I intended to go out to the Rockaways today, to help distribute gifts and food. And I didn’t. I have many excuses to myself for this – I’m not really needed, I’m tired, I can’t be late for Christmas Eve dinner, I’ll do it later – and I do believe some of them, or at least I say I do. But the truth is that I am lying to myself. I am selfish and lazy. I’m pretending to be a good kind-hearted individual when I’d rather sit here and indulge myself. I’m faux good. (Good intentions do in fact pave the road to hell.) One thing that did hearten me during the Hurricane Sandy aftermath was that this false nature in us wasn’t nearly so apparent. I saw many sharp words exchanged because things had to get done. They weren’t pretending. They were being direct. People expressed themselves intensely and honestly, in anger, in sorrow, in devastation, in thankfulness. There was so much of that. New Yorkers can be quite good at this, speaking their minds – maybe too good – but we must remember that there is much positive in that.
Rockaways Donation Center
Being direct and honest. I think it might be just as simple – and hard – as that. I think back over the past couple of years to a most unpleasant situation at my workplace. The problem was never the difference of opinion – what could there be possibly wrong with that? – but because those who disagreed with me have whispered, plotted and attacked. I knew of this but was not concerned. Truth will out. That’s what I’ve always believed. But the bystanders didn’t do anything for fear they might be subject to the same attack. In other words, the misery wasn’t in what was said but because this cabal manipulated so many – even themselves – into believing that the monstrous shadow in the room wasn’t real. It was something else…which brings me back to LaPierre: “There are monsters out there every day, and we need to do something to stop them.” Indeed we do.These wild things live in us. These are terrifying things. We can’t hammer one another to concede. This isn’t about intimidation. This isn’t about winning an argument. This is about what is true in us. It is about being honest. It is about reflecting on how our actions affect others and making an examples of ourselves so that this world might be a safer, kinder place. Or do we want to pretend that we need a “good guy with a gun” to do that for us? Not me. I need to do something. I really do.
One of the neighborhoods subjected to the most devastation by Hurricane Sandy is the Rockaways, in southern Queens. I rented a car and went to the Occupy Sandy Hub in Brooklyn to ferry supplies and volunteers. We loaded the car with food, diapers, cleaning supplies before heading out through the traffic and confusion. The Rockaways is a very long peninsula, spanning some 180 streets; many of the houses have been badly damaged by flooding; power remains out at most intersections; and the sand and detritus is everywhere. We drove slowly through the streets – slowed by emergency vehicles and construction equipment everywhere – and made our delivery at Inglesia Pentacostal Rehoboth.There was a gas station with no lines across the street, however I had rented a car with a license plate ending in zero (which counts as an even number in the current gas rationing system) and therefore was not supposed to have access to gas today. (The rule is odd number plates on odd number days). I thought about this and the fact there were not only no lines, but there were absolutely no cars either. It seemed like a good rule to break. I left my volunteers at the St. Gertrude Parish.
Directions from St. Gertrude Church
I returned to the Occupy Sandy hub for more supplies. I re-stocked with blankets, batteries and volunteers – three moderately hip 20-somethings from Brooklyn – and was directed out to Coney Island.
Coney Island’s iconic Wonder Wheel
Coney Island, a geographical neighbor to the Rockaways and yet separated by many miles of roads and traffic, appears to be doing better than the Rockaways, but is still struggling with a lack of power and an excess of sand
Neptune and Surf
and muck. We delivered food to a small apartment building, climbing the cold dark staircase, knocking on doors and doing our best to communicate with the mostly Russian inhabitants. I was brought into the apartment of an elderly Russian lady who showed me how she has cleaned up after the six inches of flood water. She didn’t need food or water. She had been provided with those. She needed her power to be turned back on. I couldn’t do that. We hugged instead.
It was cold and ugly last night: a mix of freezing rain, snow and wind, all in all, utterly lousy.
7th Avenue and 20th Street, Manhattan
Fulton and Gold Streets, Manhattan
It was just a storm like so many others, not that bad, but I went to sleep with a feeling of dread, thinking about the people in Staten Island, the Rockaways, along the Jersey shore, everyone hit so hard. This was anything but just another storm for them.
It was cold this morning, but the wind and rain were no more. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. Battery Park was quiet and peaceful. And people were pouring back into the city. The tourists were here too.
At the Stock Exchange
Everything seemed the same, like this storm had never happened, like it was just another hyped event, just more news to cover. But it did happen. It really did. And so now what? What do we actually do? There’s a mountain ahead, overwhelming, almost impossible…but perhaps we might follow Governor Christie‘s advice (via his mother): “Do the job you have in front of you and the rest will follow.” I know that I’ve got to get back to my book. It’s time for the final edit.