“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face…we must do that which we think we cannot.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
As my fingers hover over the keys, I have tears in my eyes. This is unusual for me, as I am not the most emotional person. But the thing is, I can feel it. That tingling in the extremities you get when something bad is about to happen. The sense that there’s something unseen, right out of your line of sight. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know what it will look like.
Like death, you can be as prepared as possible, but you’ll never be ready. When lives are lost and destruction is wrought in its cruelest forms, it doesn’t matter who you are, what your job is, or where you’re from, it must change you. And that means if you’re physically there, or merely empathically watching on television. When you feel the heat from the flames devouring the family photos, keepsakes, and dreams that are built into a neighborhood of houses – you mourn. When you see the water violating the essence of a city, its thrumming vibrancy and cohesion, you stare wide eyed in horror. You feel that hitch in your chest, that suspension of belief when you think, not again, it can’t be. The loss of power, the lack of fresh water, preserved food – those are things easily endured in unity by a many varied people who have all just become one. They are things to bond over. It is warmth to share and gratitude to spread.
But the death? The death will never be made okay. Mothers and fathers will forever be without their children. Children will always mourn the loss of their parents. Husbands and wives will always seek to hold the hand that will never again be entwined with theirs. Death brings death. Natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy are a plague, a death in and of themselves, a harbinger of pain and sorrow. So in this vein I say that death must be honored. And not only death, but the city that still thrives on unity and strives toward renewal. Therefore, we must not make a soapbox out of tragedy. We may not allow ourselves the indignity of touting bills, rights, and political votes in the face of catastrophe while funeral preparations are being made and homes are destroyed forever. Respond in a manner worthy of yourself, and people will see where your virtues lie, whether they be noble or self-serving. And that will say more than any campaign ever could.
The human capacity to band together will never cease to amaze me. The care exhibited, the aid offered, and the heartfelt thoughts and prayers of millions coalesce to create a terribly magnificent beauty. Because, if in times of distress, we can support and love the ones in crisis, our potential is limitless. The one benefit of pain and disaster is that it shows your true self. It sharpens you, hones your vision and opens your eyes to the things that truly matter and have purpose for you. And yes, you knew it was coming, it makes you grow. And we are nothing if we are not growing. Stagnation breeds all manner of evil things and is itself a kind of disaster. And so I propose we honor death in its varied forms, physical, mental, and emotional. But also that we honor life for the dead. Savor the trivialities, be grateful for small mercies, love your family, kiss your friends. Because we’ll rise above this, lives will be changed, and things will be restored until they are better than they were before. Because that’s how Americans do it. We take the broken and defy its futility until we create something so much stronger, better, and more beautiful, that we thank thank the disaster for striking.