Hurricane Sandy caused at least $50 billion worth of damage across the northeastern United States, giving the worst of its wrath to places like New York’s Staten Island, Manhattan, and Long Island. Many people lost everything, with homes washed away or burned to the ground. Others spent days or even weeks without electricity, and even now many of us here still walk around as if in a collective daze. Just a gust of wind gets us nervous, forcing us to anxiously glance up at trees and power lines.
The only thing I can think of that had a similar impact was 9-11-2001, when afterwards the sight of jet planes made me shiver. Even now I pause briefly when I hear the sound of plane engines, unable to shake the memory of that day and, as if I could ever forget, all I need to do is look at the skyline of my city to know it has been changed irrevocably.
While 9/11 had a focused impact on what we called Ground Zero here in New York, Sandy’s path of destruction was a much wider one. It too changed landscapes forever, toppling a devastatingly high number of trees, destroying homes, ripping apart infrastructure, and shattering lives. Just go down to Long Beach or Island Park on Long Island, and you will see the carnage that was left behind, the detritus of lives forever altered by the ferocity of Mother Nature’s seemingly unforgiving hand.
Now in these days after the catastrophic event, it is more important than ever to seek normalcy in things that remind us of better times, happy things, and the people who matter most to us. The “holidays” represent an opportunity to bring some kind of joy to people, to put smiles on faces that have had nothing but the heft of loss and despair to think about.
Many of us have done our part in these last weeks: collecting clothes, cleaning supplies, food, and water; we have also raised money to help those who have nothing left. All of these things are substantial and tangible, but the intangible things matter too at times like these.
The Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is one thing that has always brought New Yorkers together – millions of them – at one time. The only comparable event is New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the “holidays” and New Year’s Eve the end, and during the time in between this year it will be important to remember to continue to do the job of helping those who lost so much during the hurricane.
Thanksgiving is a time to say “Thank you” as much as possible. People mistakenly think of this as some kind of religious thing, though there is nothing wrong with people who worship their god to give thanks to him/her; however, giving thanks is something that should be done between people as well. We should thank all those first responders who went beyond the call of duty to help during the storm. Just as the firefighters went up the stairs in the Twin Towers on 9/11 while everyone else was coming down, these brave souls ventured out into the storm to do their jobs while everyone else was hunkered down somewhere in a presumably safe place.
After the storm there were so many people who tried to help, some driving all the way to New York from places as far away as Texas and Canada to offer supplies and a helping hand. Neighbors took in neighbors who lost everything, and ever dependable family members did the same. As is usually the case, New Yorkers come together to help during a crisis, and this time is no exception. All of these people deserve a great big hearty “Thank you” for a job well done.
So this Thanksgiving is the start of something: a holiday season unlike any other here in New York since 9/11. All of us who got through the storm relatively unscathed should be thankful for that, and we need to extend that thankfulness outwardly as far as possible. We need to continue to give and to care and do what New Yorkers do best now and in the weeks and months to come.
I remember walking down the street in Queens in the weeks before Christmas after 9/11 and encountering a vast display of lights outside one home. I saw a man coming down a ladder who had just strung even more lights along the roof. I said something to him about it being an amazing array, and he said, “I’ve decorated more than ever this year because I am sending a message out into space. I want everyone to know they can’t keep us New Yorkers down.”
So this year we need to celebrate the holidays with full vim and vigor. We need to do whatever we can to help others, and we do need to send a message of light to permeate the darkness, one that seemed to last forever after the storm for so many. Now it all starts with Thanksgiving, and this year more than ever we need to give thanks and to be thankful, while assisting those who are the most needy. Most importantly, we need to put smiles on those faces that have had nothing to smile about for what seems like such a long time, and that time is now.
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