Reminders

by Christopher Paul on October 31, 2012

I’m sitting in the living room of my father in law’s apartment in Manhattan, NY. I have heat, power, water, gas, and all the comforts of a modern home like high-speed internet and HD TV. But seven hours ago, I was leaving my apartment in Hoboken, where I live, with a heavy bag on my back and my wife’s purse – both filled with clothes and personal supplies for the two of us and our almost three year old son – and walked through knee high flooded waters contaminated by heating oil that had spilled into the flooded waters brought by Hurricane Sandy.

My family is lucky. We live on a higher floor so our apartment was spared the worst. We also don’t have car to worry about. But many people in Hoboken have ground or basement level homes and cars which couldn’t be (or weren’t) parked in an elevated garage. They probably lost everything. The area is still flooded and almost everyone is without power. There is no mass transit available to people who want to get out. So unless you have a car capable of going through flood waters that was spared or can get to the ferry service (which only started working today, Wednesday), you’re stuck. If you left and want to get back in, too bad.

Hurricane Sandy was like nothing I’ve every seen before and I hardly saw anything at all. Reports from the news are almost to heart breaking to read. Whole cities underwater. Boardwalks, businesses, and homes demolished. Property ruined. Lives lost. It’s even hard to watch my Twitter stream right now because depressing pictures, videos, and links to news articles fill it with a reminder that there is horrible suffering being felt just miles away from me and affecting friends I care deeply about.

It’s also hard to watch the non-Sandy related tweets in my stream. People talking about Google/Android or Apple/iPad mini just don’t seem important when just above it is a tweet with a picture of Atlantic City underwater or the image of homes lost to fires in Queens, NY. Suddenly app store policies, honey boo boo, and Halloween seem petty and make me feel embarrassed that, before the devastation, I even cared about such things.

I don’t fault anyone for tweeting about non-Sandy related news or feelings. Not everyone lives in areas affected by the storm. Some people want to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Some probably deny situations like the ones we’re seeing exist. And it’s not like most of those people can make an active difference to those in need. Some, sure. But most aren’t skilled or close enough to do what the first responders, National Guard, EMT, police and fire departments, or public utility workers do.

And, yet, I find myself ashamed to follow people who casually tweet Disney/Star Wars jokes. I’m embarrassed to concern myself with topics not even remotely important in times like this. I feel bad that I was able to stay in my home for as long as I did. And I feel guilty I moved to a safer, more comfortable place and left my home and my friends behind.

I feel humbled. I feel guilty. I feel ashamed. I feel regret. Events like these reminded me of how lucky I am. And I feel I need more – and less – reminders like this.

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