This photo seems like any other photo we've seen after a Hurricane -- upsetting, sad, perhaps unnerving. And so we turn the page, or click on the mouse, and move on. I know. I've done it so many times.
But this photo is not like every other photo for me. This hurricane is not like every other hurricane, which I have usually watched blow by from some safe, remote location. This time, for Sandy, I was, again, safe in Western Pennsylvania, but the photos bear unflinching witness that I am in no way remote this time.
For four years, I taught English at Stella Maris High School in Rockaway Beach, New York, a small community on a tiny pennisula of land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean just off of Brooklyn, although considered a part of Queens. Rockaway was a second home for me for those four years. I walked on its boardwalks and ate in its restaurants, had my manicure at its salons and picked up groceries at its store before catching the bus back to Park Slope. Wherever I walked, I saw someone I knew, usually a student, but sometimes someone who just knew me because their daughter, or neice, or younger sister had been in my class. Years later, as much as I enjoyed my students and colleagues at other workplaces, Rockaway still feels like a place where I still belong, and I proudly call myself a 38-year-old Stella Girl -- although the school closed several years ago.
Rockaway is hurting. The photo above was taken there. The photo below is what remains of the boardwalk where I walked.
I'm heaing amazing, harrowing stories. They dribble out over facebook as people can get to their computers. 100 houses burned to the ground. A former student drives back to her town and cannot find her home; it;'s gone. A former colleague's parents are lead out of their burning home, through the flood waters, by a brave neighbor. Basements are flooded, ruined. First floors are gone, too. A former student watched her car float away. In New York City. In 2012.
No power, no water, looting. There is desperate need for clothing, for baby wipes, for diapers. I've been fighting the urge to get in my car and drive there immediately for the last three days. I know I can't be of much help, but still, these young women were in my care for so many years, and I promised that I would always be there for them. Would you help me do that?
What can we do? We can pray, if we are the praying kind. We can ask the media to cover the devastation in Rockaway, in Breezy Point, in Long Beach, and in other, hurting places, like New Jersey, too. We can ask for fewer updates from and about people who are mildly inconvenienced and instead ask for a spotlight on the folks in dire straights.
And we can give. The Red Cross or text REDCROSS to 90999 and immediately donate $10. For those in New York, St. Francis de Sales Parish is accepting donations of food, clothing, baby supplies and money, and those outside NYC can send checks: St. Francis de Sales, 129-16 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Belle Harbor, NY 11694.
Please do something. Everything is not ok, or returning to normal, and these folks need us.