Saturday, November 10, 2012


I've been nervous about posting actions I take and thoughts that I have, ever since I watched someone's blog post be used as evidence against them in a court of law.


Taking action in the aftermath of Sandy is not (yet) illegal, and I need to write to process it for myself.

The first few days I was in shock and struggling with flu and two bored kids out of school. But by Saturday I had a big pile of dry goods I had purged from my own emergency stores that I needed to donate, like a bulk-goods island in the middle of my living room. I rationalized the total devastation of our pantry by saying that it was an emergency, just because it wasn't *my* emergency didn't mean that the gallons of water and multipacks of batteries weren't being used in the exact way they were intended when I first bought them.

One friend took a few lightweight items away that Saturday afternoon; he's a runner and while he hadn't planned on running the marathon this year, he had decided to run across (and up and down flights of stairs in) Staten Island to bring supplies to those in greatest need.

Sunday, a friend with a half-filled SUV filled up the rest of it with my donations for a local drop off point. There were several in our neighborhood, she wasn't even sure which one she would end up at-- just compelled, as I was, to gather and to give, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

That donation satisfied me for about 48 hours. Watching Twitter and Facebook and my more flexible/less physically limited friends helping out brought the itch back, though. I started pursuing other venues: Thursday I cooked up 3 gallons of split pea soup, chock full of barley and vegetables, and donated it to the Astoria Cooks for the Rockaways project a local woman started. I had disposable trays because of my earlier experiences cooking for OWS, and even gave tips to a drinking buddy who was worried she didn't have enough pasta, on how to bulk her dish up with vegetables.

The next morning a very dear friend took her shepherd's pie and my soup (and LittleMan and me!) to the hot food drop-off location. I actually met one of my new neighbors there (we moved at the end of September. Another reason this blog has been quiet), and suddenly I felt tied into the community in a way I hadn't before. The street was full of double parked cars and women with trays and boxes and bags, trying to help out our larger Queens' community. Some were strangers, but most were women whose kids went to school with my kids, who were friends of friends, who I had nodded politely to before when our strollers passed on the sidewalk. My casual community, suddenly connected on a deeper level... for a higher purpose. It made my heart go up and down a little.

Friday afternoon, ProtestKid and I stood outside our local grocery store with other members of his scouting group (Navigators Chapter 13) asking for food and money donations. I don't know yet how much we gathered (a mayonnaise jar's worth of cash and coins, two cardboard boxes full of non-perishables), but it felt meaningful even if it was only one hour.

A lot of people stopped to chat; one woman paused after her donation and said she really understood, she had lost everything in an earthquake in her home country. Others apologized that they didn't have any money on them, but we pointed out there would be more opportunities to give later. It's not like the aching need is going away any time soon.

But the most meaningful interaction for me was with a friend-- lots of friends passed by, actually, as we were in a great location just off the last train station on the N line-- but she hugged me and said, "Thank you for everything you're doing." It turns out this is not just a good but distant cause for her, as Katrina was for us. Her mother lived in the Rockaways; she lost her home and is now living with them. Her mother is devastated, her community is devastated. Her community is changed; she will never be the same.

This isn't a platitude or a homily or a Hallmark card. Structures broken, networks torn, there aren't enough metaphors to describe the feeling of loss when you lose everything... Houses, yes, but routine and comfort and the people you nod to when you walk down the street.

When you lose everything that defined your place in the world, because that place is gone.

Today I went out in the backyard barefoot, to feel my new garden's potential between my cold toes and plant daffodils that my favorite flower company sent me free, as a gift to all their customers affected by Sandy. I caught my neighbor also out for a quiet moment, and I thanked him for sweeping the snow off our stairs after the nor'easter.

He shrugged, "That's what neighbors do," he said. Then caught himself, "It's what I was brought up to do." I gave him one of the two daffodil bulbs I had left, and he ran inside and gave me a bottle of home-pressed wine, from the yellow grapes he grows at the end of his yard.

Then I had to run inside, and give him a small jar of raspberry gin that I brewed earlier this year.

Glowing with gifts and good neighbors, I went inside. I've been happy all day, despite my kids having their first sleepover last night. (They were up until 11 pm. And then again at 3 am. And 4. And 6. Twitch.) We love them and their parents, though, so we didn't harm anyone. For the record.

I keep thinking about community--  my garden community, the Astoria community, the Sandy-affected community... even the parents of unslumber party participants community. (You know who you are.)

I am learning a lot about what community means, and it is hard watching some powerful people and organizations turn their backs on huge swathes of what should be their community, too.

But I am deeply affected-- even changed-- by the realization that my neighbors are part of my community. As someone who has felt isolated in one way or another for most of my life, Occupy Wall Street was a validation that strangers across the country- the world-- were interested in joining me in a loving, healthy community with a capital C.

Occupy Sandy is a wondrous discovery that, shaken by events or just delighted by the opportunity, my neighbors and acquaintances, friends and bosom buddies, also want to participate, to share gifts of love and moments of sweet communion with me.

We are a community, we are sharing the love and the pain and I know that this moment cannot be sustained, living in the light takes more effort than most of us can spare-- but I am grateful that I can participate in this pain-wracked, dark and bright and ethereal and real moment.

I hope that the dramatic changes we all are living through can make true neighbors of us all.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Lovely, thoughtful commentary on finding (and losing) one's place in the world. Thank you.