Tag Archives: belief

The Human Side of Sandy

I lived in Hoboken, NJ, for 15 years during my late ’20s and 30s. It’s a mile-square city, a so-called bedroom community to Manhattan, and the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. It was also one of the most close-knit communities I’ve ever called home, full of people who still occupy a special place in my heart.

The last time I visited Hoboken was October 2001, when I returned to empty the apartment that I’d been subletting and pull up my roots for good. I’d been away for two years, and out of the country during the attacks on the World Trade Center. As I walked around Hoboken that week, I saw dozens and dozens of “Have you seen…?” fliers with desperate, handwritten appeals and the haunting faces of those who were likely buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers. The city felt bruised, sad…and surreal.

On October 30, 2012, my heart went out to Hoboken again as I saw arresting images of flooded streets, destroyed property and stranded residents in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. When I heard Mayor Dawn Zimmer crying out for help on CNN, I started to follow the situation on TV and Facebook.

Hoboken residents share their power with those needing a place to recharge

Hoboken residents share their power

What I saw next was a different kind of surge, as the beleaguered people of this small city began sharing their precious power and resources, opening their homes to moms with kids for extended play dates and movies with snacks. People in neighboring Weehawken offered their showers, couches, spare bedrooms, kitchens and vacant apartments to complete strangers who were suddenly homeless.

The Hoboken Facebook page became a place where people posted all kinds of urgent appeals and generous offers. Kids and adults came out to clean up homes, parks, streets and businesses. There were block parties with free food and activities for kids who couldn’t go to school. People were dropping in on isolated senior citizens while making trips to donate furniture, diapers and flashlights.

And help arrived from beyond the Garden State, too, as revealed in a post that said,  “Super amazing. Heritage Academy from Monterey, TN, sent up a bus of 59 students and teachers to assist in our efforts at the High School. They were a huuuge help! Thank you!”

Across the river, New York City was grappling with its own devastation and loss. Again. Just as they did on 9/11, so many resilient New Yorkers rebounded as quickly as they could and rose to the occasion. “When something like this happens, it’s as if  you’re suddenly in a small town,” said a friend of mine in upper Manhattan. “A lot of people here are housing friends and relatives and colleagues who lost their homes. There was so much worse destruction in some places that my friends downtown say they felt lucky that they only lost power. One of them joked, ‘It’s like I’m camping, except there are no trees.'”

Making the best of tragedy is what a lot of Americans are really good at. And compassion often comes biggest from the smallest of us. In Bullitt County, Kentucky, three hundred elementary school kids mailed their Halloween candy to the children of Hoboken last week. Their teacher reported that many of these children, who themselves receive public assistance, donated all of the candy they had. “One student told me that he’d only donated ‘the good stuff,'” she added.

That candy was distributed at yesterday’s Ragamuffin Parade, Hoboken’s annual Halloween event for kids and kids-at-heart that was delayed, but not destroyed, by Sandy.

Two weeks after this massive storm, too many people in New York and New Jersey are still without power. Thousands have lost everything they owned, and more than a hundred people lost their lives. I have officially closed down my personal complaint department for 2012, as I’m reminded every day to feel grateful my home, heat, electricity, running water and abundant food and clothing. For those of us who were unscathed by Sandy, Thanksgiving is a month-long celebration this year, and a chance to remember and help those who were not so lucky.

 

Losing My Ambition

As I approach my personal half-century mark, I find myself in strange territory. Having successfully climbed a few career ladders in my life, I am currently, apparently, without ambition. It doesn’t feel like a bad thing.

I’ve lived in big cities and charming towns and traveled the world from Alaska to Zimbabwe. I’ve interviewed celebrities, been interviewed on TV, hosted radio shows, co-written books and hung out with politicos and hip hop pioneers in New York, New York. I’ve sung to crowds at Boston’s Symphony Hall and the Hatch Shell. I even swayed and clapped with fellow gospel singers behind Mariah Carey as she belted out “Make it Happen” to thousands of fans at the huge TD Garden. (That was awesome.)

I’m not trying to brag here so much as note the highlights of a life lived pretty fully so far. I’m sure I’ll be up to more adventures eventually, but right now I’m satisfied with the ones I’ve had.

The evidence of my contentment, if that’s the word for it, is mounting:

A few weeks ago, as I sat in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership, I scanned the table full of gossip rags. I realized I had absolutely no interest in anything that any celebrity was up to that week. This, from someone who used to devour People magazine from cover-to-cover, watch Entertainment Tonight religiously, and fantasize about being a big somebody some day.

Always a fan of comfort clothes, I now find myself primarily dressing in a style that can best be described as casual bordering on frumpy. Most days you’ll find me in sensible footwear, yoga pants, and no-iron tops. I cannot recall the last time I put on a pair of pantyhose or high heels.

I recently ran into a former yoga student of mine as she prepared to give a talk on European flower shows. When I asked her if horticulture was her business she said, “I do it for fun. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of a ‘kept woman.’” To tell you the truth, that sounded pretty good to me.

What happened to the teenager who wanted to be the next Barbara Walters, the public radio reporter who planned to host her own show, and the yoga teacher who thought she’d sit across from Oprah one day, gabbing about her spiritual awakening and helping millions to achieve their own? She’s the same person who walked away from a career in broadcast news at age 35 because her soul beckoned her elsewhere. She’s the passionate creativity teacher who recently said, “Yeah, I wanna be a ‘local somebody’ too!” upon hearing the clever phrase from a student. The current me delights in coaching others to live fully expressed lives, writing articles for a local healthy living magazine, selling the occasional personal essay and blogging for beloved readers.

When it comes to amassing a fortune, well, I always worked in non-profit but now I seem even less concerned with profiting. I pay the bills, enjoy a simple life, and follow a work schedule that leaves me with adequate free time. If time is indeed money, then I’m rich. So is a former student who echoes my sentiments as she writes, “Sometimes I feel I should be doing more and leading the kind of busy-productive life I admire in others, but my unscheduled time is so precious and essential to my peace of mind. I’m grateful to have it, because I know not everyone does.”

Author Daniel Pink recently said that this age of abundance and prosperity has liberated but not fulfilled us, leaving more people searching for meaning instead of megabucks. Last year I heard a news story about MBAs who were becoming farmers to live more sustainable lives, and last month I learned about the Junky Car Club, in which people drive old cars in order to have more money for charitable contributions.

Like these folks, my highest ambition is to be a better human being. I also want to spend more time with my family and friends while we’re all still around, keep using my skills to help people, and savor my blessings.

Crowding 50, I have no advanced degrees, no property in my name, and no record of civic involvement apart from some volunteer work and the local garden club. Still, I’m happy with the person I’ve become and I love my life. The other day I read a little message on my tea bag that said, “You can run after satisfaction, but satisfaction must come from within.”

I think I’ve stopped running.

Back in high school I thought I was too cool when I wrote my yearbook quote in French. Today, it’s the sentiment that impresses me. “What is success?” I wrote, in the English translation. “It’s being happy with what, who and where we are in life.”

More than thirty years later, I find that to be true.

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p.s. Okay, now I AM bragging – this essay made the front page/Editor’s Picks this week on Open Salon, a forum for writers. You can see it by clicking here.