Gulf Coast to Northeast: We Get It

Emergency personnel rescue residents from Hurricane Sandy’s flood waters in New Jersey. (CNS photo/Adam Hunger, Reuters)
Hello, Northeast. How are you?

It’s okay, you don’t have to answer that question. Can we buy you a drink? Let us buy you a drink.

We know. This sucks. And we wish we could tell you the nightmare will be over soon, but the fact is this is going to suck for a long time yet. Even after the waters recede, there’s still the matter of piecing your lives back together. There’s paperwork, lots and lots of paperwork. You’ll have to dig through all of your waterlogged belongings and make wrenching decisions about what’s salvageable, and you’ll have to make those decisions faster than you’d like. Some of you will lose what’s irreplaceable: your children’s baby pictures, your grandmother’s wedding dress. A few of you will lose everything — all that you own. We are so sorry for that.

True: the possessions you’ve lost are “just stuff.” Here insert Ignatian sentiment about detachment mingled with Buddhist meditation on ephermality topped off with quote from Shakespeare’s cloud-capp’d towers speech. If those ideas about the transitory nature of “stuff” help you get some much-needed perspective right now, good. We know all too well that nothing clarifies what’s important in life like a natural disaster ripping through your region. Nevertheless, even though what you lost was “just stuff,” we understand that that stuff was meaningful to you, and we want you to know that it’s okay to mourn your loss.

Here’s the good news — and yes, in spite of everything, there is good news. The good news is: we have your back. Because we remember. We remember how you gave us warm beds and hot dinners. We remember how you came, with your families and your church groups and your college chapters of Habitat for Humanity, and helped us gut our houses and our grief, helped us hammer and nail our lives into something like normalcy. We will never, ever forget how you came.

More good news: you won’t have to depend solely on the kindness of strangers. Your neighbors will come out of the woodwork to help you. They will lug your ruined carpet to the curb for you. They will show up on your saturated doorstep with cakes and casseroles. You will, in the midst of your relentless difficulties, feel blessed and lucky and amazed to know such people.

Not everyone will make you feel so lucky. Some people are going to say you deserved what you got. They will say that God flooded you in retribution for your sinful lifestyles. People will interpret your distress as a character flaw. They will wonder why you waited around for the government to save you, ignoring the fact that you did no such thing. Tune those people out. They are silly.

We on the Gulf Coast watch your suffering with horror and recognition, and we assure you, with all of our hearts, that you are not alone. We will look out for you, as you once looked out for us. We’ll even lend you our patron saint. As this tragedy continues to unfold, we don’t want to belittle your heartache and anxiety by telling you to buck up and look at the bright side. However, we do want you to know that better days are ahead. The skies will clear, your lives will inch their ways back to coherency, and you will discover that dark days have a way of breeding a million acts of kindness.

With thoughts, prayers, and good wishes,

Your sister in sorrow, and in recovery,

The Gulf Coast