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After Hurricane Sandy, Hope Floats

Hurricane Sandy’s waters may have claimed houses, boardwalks, subways and, most devastatingly, lives, but we as a people discovered that in the aftermath of loss and devastation, the best of who we are always stays afloat.

I’m a Jersey Girl, through and through—I eat subs and prefer Jersey tomatoes. I don’t find the motto “Garden State” to be at all ironic, but I do get a kick out of cheaper gas that someone else pumps for me. My family has turned the state joke—“What exit?”—on its end, with the license plate of my mom’s car that reads “Exit --,” with the number of the Garden State Parkway exit for my folks’ house down (not at) the shore.

It’s at that very Jersey Shore where I learned salt water courses through my veins. So imagine my sorrow to view the destruction of our beloved beaches brought on by the wrath of the sea itself.

In the days since Hurricane Sandy left we’ve seen devastating images of such immense ruin and loss all across the Northeast. An entire neighborhood wiped out in Breezy Point, NY by a fire that destroyed 111 homes in the middle of the storm. The blacked-out landscape of lower Manhattan, much of which is still impacted by flood damage and power loss, with flooded subway tunnels and cars afloat in a parking garage ‘pool.’ The shore communities of Connecticut and Long Island, with homes now condemned after being battered and flattened by the powerful storm. And in my beloved New Jersey, where nature’s wrath permanently altered the landscape and tried to erase much of the coast and its inhabitants.

Millions left without power, an estimated $50 billion in damages, and a coastline forever changed.

The impact the storm left in its wake will take years to come back from, especially when those damage estimates continue to grow—and the tales of tragedy mount.

There is shattering loss—like who died when he was struck by a falling tree in the middle of the hurricane. He, like other incredibly brave first responders, reveal the unshakable dedication and respect for community and our way of life that is our ideal; we are reminded of the value we hold as a nation on such acts of courage, and we are heartbroken to be shown yet another time how such men and women put their lives on the line for all of us, asking for nothing in return for risking so much.

There was the woman from New Jersey who—after the storm took her house, and the lives of her husband and her children—clutched onto the state’s governor, Chris Christie, crying, “I have nothing left. I have nothing left.” For her, there are simply no words.

But it’s in these and other similar stories and images that we also find our way out of the darkness. We see a man mopping the mud from the floor, walls and ceiling of his business—he vows to clean and rebuild his business, and we are pressed to honor his spirit and perseverance by making good on our promise of help with follow-thru and commitment.

If the post-Sandy post-apocalyptic landscape isn't proof that we have to come together to work as one humanity, than there can be no hope. Beaten, battered, like the beaches of our neighboring communities, we need to see them as exactly that—neighbors and community.

We don’t abandon our neighbors, we don’t give up hope on our community.

My own town was heartened and motivated when spontaneous groups organized to raise money and much needed supplies in the hard-hit areas. These efforts multiplied and replicated, as news rippled out of such efforts and more people started asking, “How can we help, too?”

We are seeing this all around the country—whether it’s the millions raised by NBC’s televised benefit concert, or the donation drop-off boxes in elementary schools; in Red Cross mobilization or more ad hoc bake sales and t-shirt fundraising.

We see it in images of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie side by side with President Barack Obama—two former political foes on opposite sides of an ideological spectrum, now joined in a more important battle to help their fellow man and woman. The posturing goes out the window and what remains is an understanding that what we need is cooperation; that what must happen is partnership and trust; and that what will carry us through is faith in one another, mutual reliance and support, and hope for tomorrow.

That’s what rises to the surface, and that’s what buoys us and carries us forward.

Hope floats.

One of the many ways you can help victims of Hurricane Sandy is through the Red Cross, http://www.redcross.org/. Another excellent clearinghouse for links to relevant, timely Sandy donation updates is the Facebook page for “Cancel the 2012 NYC Marathon.” The name can’t be changed but the administrator is channeling amazing volunteer resources to where they’re needed most and she’s very plugged into where the needs are the greatest.

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