I was one of few who wanted the NYC marathon to run this last weekend.
I was also one of few who had power, heat, and water throughout the storm. The worst I suffered was intermittent internet outages. But, I believed that as a decent human being, the mayor wouldn’t have made the decision to keep the event had he known that life-saving resources were being diverted. The revenue the race generates, of course, would have been good for the city but more so, I needed to see people celebrating and supporting other people covering 26.2 miles, putting one foot in front of the other.
After a week of obsessively ingesting an insane amount of Sandy-related news (often regurgitated versions of the same information with increasingly distorted headlines) from a warm, dry perch, I felt anxious and stuck. Every site I looked to for volunteer information offered me a cheery thank-for-your-interest-but-we’re-not-currently-accepting-volunteers/food/supplies. So, to get out of the house, away from the internet, I went out for brunch, for a run, for a drink, as I would have any other day, knowing this was not any other time in New York. A friend wrote about this weirdly normal place we found ourselves in—safe, feeling singularly helpless, and guilty, doing nothing really, at all.
Finally, on Friday evening, another friend who had been checking in on a friend who stayed in the Rockaways, received info via text that the Rockaway Beach Surf Club was organizing a help center to organize and distribute food, supplies, and able-bodied volunteers. We went out and bought shovels, gloves and rubber boots, and drove down to 87th Street on Saturday morning.
We unloaded my car with the water, toiletries, clothing, and blanket donations we brought and were immediately put to work, organizing donations and preparing to assist the line of people forming outside. Because I was able to find pen and paper, I became a list-taker, writing down the name of the next person in line and what they needed, and for how many adults and how many children. I then circled through the club’s lot and shelter, filling a bag with supplies and returning it to my person in the line. For my small efforts, I was embarrassed to receive hugs and thank yous.
I’m not sure that coordinating relief efforts was something the RBSC ever intended or imagined they would be doing but they were quick and efficient and by the end of the day a few dozen of us had organized and distributed truckloads of donations and teams were dispatched to clean up the homes of a few elderly women who came seeking help. The remaining goods were repackaged and dropped off at a distribution center around the corner that the National Guard appeared to be just setting up and the surf club was readied to receive the next day’s donations and volunteers. Most of us, myself included, wanted/needed to get out of the Rockaways before dark and we departed to the warmth of our homes in other parts of the city.
From our safe places, it seems unfair and possibly unkind to resume “normal” life—emailing, doing laundry, and well, working—knowing others are fighting for the basics. At the same time, the news has shifted and election coverage is as inescapable as Sandy and her aftermath had been. And so, most of NYC is looking ahead, over the next few days, the next few months, to the next four years, and getting back to work. It’s better than where we were a week ago, waiting on a hurricane, watching the aftermath, some near, and some of us far. Now, we are moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other. And hopefully, because we know, by virture of geography (but not geography alone), we are starting leaps and bounds ahead of people around us, we’ll be working towards new, re-defined, refined goals. We can do more, do better than we think we can and now is the time to realize it.
When training for a marathon, if you are lucky, early on, you learn this trick: when you are tired and you think you will never run that far, if you can keep moving your arms, your legs, too, will keep moving, and your feet will cover the distance. Eventually, your efforts will add up to something that you once thought was impossible.
In getting back to work, to life, keeping an eye on opportunities to help, (having voted by mail), I am repeating this to myself: Keep moving your arms.
Rockaway Beach Surf Club is still, and will be for some time, working for recovery in the Rockaways.
Occupy Sandy is providing real-time updates on volunteer opportunities and donation needs on their site and over Twitter and Facebook. They are also accepting donations.