It has been about a year since we have posted anything on this blog. Everything I read or see about Hurricane Sandy and the people struggling in the wake of its aftermath has me reliving the days and months after Hurricane Irene. The memory of the sludge on my hands can still give me pause. And I still reach for things that are no longer there. I don’t have that book I want to lend you. I don’t have that photo from third grade I wanted to show you. That piece of furniture is just gone. And the letters from my childhood friends and grandparents: all the words have washed away.
But in a year’s time, things have gotten so much better for us. In the middle of what we were going through, I couldn’t have imagined where I would be today. We had been saving for years leading up to the flood to buy our first house. We had actually looked at one house just days before Irene. We put house-hunting on hold while we picked up the pieces of our broken lives and moved in with Michael’s mom. Your donations came in as fast as the flood: food, clothes, furniture, cleaning supplies, garbage cans, bedding, office supplies, and money. We needed it all, every single last thing. I honestly think I cried after taking each gift back to our little attic room at Marta’s. As we sorted through the contents of our flooded home, we found some things could be salvaged. Family and friends scrubbed and disinfected right along side us. Sometimes it was all I could do to stare off into space and shake. Trauma does interesting things to a person’s mental state. In the days immediately following the flood, it was difficult to perform typical daily routines. People stepped in and took over certain tasks: finding and filling a storage unit with our remaining belongings, making food, washing clothes. There is no way we could have done this alone. NO WAY. Anyone out there helping the communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy, you are changing people’s lives right now.
I am writing this from a 200 year old farmhouse that we purchased 4 months after Hurricane Irene. I look around everyday, I swear, and try to take in all that I have one year later. I feel more blessed than I ever have in my entire life. This is what happens when you lose something big and you experience the powerful protection of helpful human beings. We have a couch and bed that a community’s donations helped us buy. We have dressers for our clothes that were either donated or refurbished by our family or friends. We have lamps to read by that people gave us. We combed yard sales, Craigslist and thrift stores to recreate what we had taken years to build. We have everything we need. We eat all our meals at a beautiful kitchen table that was given to us by a friend. I think of her kindness almost every day. Michael is back to making and recording music because he was able to replace his equipment with the financial donations we received. The Small Business Association steps in to FEMA communities and lends people low-interest loans to rebuild their lives. This loan gave us the freedom to buy a house and replace things we lost.
Sometimes I cry because I feel so blessed. Sometimes I cry because I am not yet over what we went through. It was a life-changing event that shook me to the core. I’m grateful to have friends who allow me those moments of sadness, knowing that grieving is an important part of moving through to the other side of something. I am grateful for all the people who checked in with us on the days leading up to this most recent hurricane. “How are you feeling about this?” they called to say. Thank god we made it through this one with no damage. I’m not sure how I could have handled it.
A small plum tree was planted this week in our side yard, a precious gift from the students and parents at the school where I teach. These offerings have been so huge to us. We take nothing for granted. Each moment of our lives feels rich. Our relationships with family and friends feel more important than ever before. Receiving such copious amounts of kindness has altered my life and its meaning. Whenever I read about the relief efforts of Hurricane Sandy, I am reminded of the caring hearts that helped us heal. Everything we are all doing right now to stand by those who lost their homes, lost loved ones, lost their livelihoods, is essential to the whole picture. Keep reaching out.