By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
I have great childhood memories of spending many summer days on the Jersey Shore. My dad grew up in Atlantic City, and my mom is from Margate.
Feeling a bit nostalgic today after reading the stories in The Boston Globe and The New York Times about all of our brothers and sisters in New York, New Jersey and beyond who are struggling in the wake of Sandy. A text I received today from my cousin, Mickey Maguire, on Ravine Drive in Matawan, New Jersey inspired this post.
Before Sandy hit, Mickey picked up his spry, and very feisty, 91-yr old mom (my Aunt Marie) from her home on North Chelsea Ave. in Atlantic City and brought her to his home in Matawan to ride out the storm. My dad grew up in the same home on North Chelsea Ave. After the storm, I spoke with Mickey on his cell, then subsequently relayed an email to my siblings, that included the following:
As you know, Atlantic City suffered serious damage, and there is currently no access in or out. They won’t know the extent of the damage to Aunt Marie’s home for a while. Flooding in the basement is a given. Mickey can’t get to work yet in NYC, for obvious reasons.
Mickey and Beth’s home is without power, and the best estimate is another 7-10 days before it is restored. They are all safe, a bit chilly, but in good health. They are keeping warm by turning on the gas stove. Their home is surrounded by large trees, but only 1 of them went down, without damaging their home.
Mickey was losing juice on his phone, so we couldn’t talk long. He’s charging his phone using his car. He did want me to mention that they had a “Hurricane Party” last night with some of the neighbors, Aunt Marie had a few highballs, and Mickey enjoyed a bourbon or 2… You can’t keep us down!
Unfortunately, the news got worse when Mickey and his Mom were able to return home to Atalntic City on Saturday. I received the following text last night, 10/3, at 10pm:
Went to AC today. Mom’s roof blew off. Water in 2 bedrooms, dining room and kitchen. Heater and hot water heaters shot. Basement apartment totalled. Car totalled. Mom will be with us for the foreseeable future. We still have no power (Matawan), but are able to keep the back of the house in the low 70’s with the stove. Kerosene lamps work great. She (Mom) is upset but dealing with it. We registered with FEMA.
And then an update today from Mickey via text at 3:10pm today:
This morning our neighbor hardwired our gas furnace to his generator. We have heat! We contacted a roofer who is going to look at Mom’s roof tomorrow. Still no power, but heat ROCKS.
It sure does, along with everything else we take for granted. Mickey’s neighbor also rocks.
After my Mom died in 1993, we found a list among her personal belongings titled, Count My Blessings, and on the list of several things she was grateful for was “A nice shower.” (A hot shower was often hard to come by in a home with 12 people, one bathroom, and a small water heater.) That simple appreciation of the ‘little things’ resonates so strongly today. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy for us to appreciate the simple things in life and to be kinder to each other.
I know a lot of people are suffering, frustrated and very upset at their circumstances right now as a result of the storm. Several have been devastated by loss of life, homes and businesses. However, there are also some tremendous stories emerging about generous people pitching in and helping each other with basic needs to survive. In the bigger scheme of things, nothing else really matters.
Sandiphilia is the condition of feeling empathy for one’s fellow man and woman, brought about by a catastrophic storm that takes lives and destroys property. It has been on full display for the last week and — at risk of sounding callous — one almost wishes events like this could happen more frequently, if only to remind us of our common humanity.
I reflected on this ‘temporary state’ in the Human-to-Human Service chapter in my forthcoming book:
The Blizzard of ’78 was a great human equalizer that rendered everyone powerless, and left many people stranded. Job titles, net worth, egos and diplomas didn’t matter. Everyone was equally helpless for a few days. Some people relied on total strangers for survival, and some people died, regardless of their social status. The storm fostered a camaraderie and cooperation nearly everyone embraced . Eventually, the strong bond faded as ‘reality’ crept back into our lives.
I thought about the transition from a galvanized, inclusive community back to ‘normalcy’ a lot after The Blizzard of ’78. It bothered me that people could be so good to each other when the playing field was level, and then gradually revert back to their old ways. I know it’s idealistic to expect people to act exactly the same way that they do during extraordinary times, but it sure would be nice if they could come close. Unfortunately, people have short memories.
It shouldn’t take extreme weather, music, disabilities, food, religion, nature, tragedy, common interests, politics, violence, art, babies, sickness, dogs, hardship, religion, ethnicity, death, sports, natural disasters, film, trauma, science, war, holidays, smoke breaks, cancer, or an attack on our country to unite people, and to remind us how amazing, fragile, and short life really is. Unfortunately it does. People slip back to their ‘old ways’ until the next shared celebration or crisis hits.
Great human equalizers, like natural disasters, make people reach out and take care of each other, and they restore your faith in people. They make total strangers realize that they have a lot in common, and that we truly are “all in this together.” I’ve been referring to this phenomenon as “The Blizzard of ’78 Effect” ever since the big storm. It shouldn’t take a snowstorm for people to be nice to each other.
I hope the generousity, goodwill, empathy, and spirit of cooperation that is helping so many people survive right now, continues long after power is restored and the cleanup and rebuilding is complete. Thank you to everyone who is working tirelessly on rescue missions, and in every other effort to provide food, water, shelter and supplies to everyone who is in need.
Sending love to Aunt Marie, Mickey, Beth, their families, neighbors, friends, and everyone impacted by the storm. Love your spirit. Keep the faith.