On our return trip from Ghana Sunday afternoon, I barely escaped New York’s JFK airport ahead of Sandy. Having just flown in from the other side of the world, I didn’t know there was a hurricane brewing. We heard about Sandy as soon as we hit the ground in NYC and we tried to process the possibility of such devastation: the crush of water leveling homes; the dangerous winds that could blow automobiles off the road; the hundreds of thousands who were going to be without power (it’s still 5 million without power as of today); the lives that might be lost. I arrived home on Sunday evening just in time to see the coverage on Sandy begin. While Alison and Kyle combed the neighborhood for candy last night, I sat in front of CNN and watched with disbelief. The terror of a natural disaster doesn’t respect the state, country, or continental lines that have been drawn by mere mortals. I witnessed people in distress and struggling to survive in Ghana, then came home to see it in my own country. I have taken note of the difference in reaction, however, between those who suffer disaster in places where disaster is prevalent, and those who suffer where comfort is the expectation and demand. The interviews with people who were walking in Manhattan – forced out of their cars and mass transit by a shutdown of roadway access – ring in my ears. “I’ve walked two hours,” said a UPS employee. “It’s been a marathon.” And while our President and his administration are being held in high regard for their quick response to the suffering, experts are speculating that if the power doesn’t come back on in short order, those affected might take their frustrations to the ballot box.
At this point, I could make an expected comparison between the resilience of those in developing countries where conditions force them to endure with little complaining, and the reaction of Americans to a hurricane disaster that affects them in such direct and painful ways. But that would be wrong. Those of us who live in relative comfort are blessed beyond what we can comprehend, and when disaster comes, we are rightfully shocked and talk openly about the pain of what we are experiencing. We make note of the fact that we are used to having access to basics like mass transit and electricity, and we watch in awe as rugged homes are washed away or reduced to rubble. I don’t blame the UPS employee for complaining about a two hour walk across the city. We are rightfully vocal about this hurricane and what it has done to our cities and communities.
But we also endure.
In the midst of all the coverage, what has drawn me in is not the ugliness of Sandy, but the beauty of people who may weep over what they have lost, yet also throw back their shoulders and vow to stay and rebuild. Neighbors and strangers cared for one another in selfless ways when they thought no one was watching. But those of us in the rest of the United States and around the world are watching. And what I see causes me to feel an even deeper sense of gratitude for this country I live in. Maybe it’s a result of being away from it – and all of its comforts and attributes – for ten days. If so, all the better. Sometimes we don’t realize the wonder of our blessings until we are absent from them for a time. I pray that each person who is suffering in the path of Sandy will have everything restored to them – from electricity to a roof over their head. Those who have lost loved ones will have the lingering question of “why?”, but I pray they will rebuild their lives and move forward with an even greater sense of how lovely and fleeting life is. These are easy prayers to pray from my home in the middle of the country where hurricanes don’t devastate. But I pray these prayers because I believe we are also a people of resilience and endurance, despite our First World comforts. We have learned to enjoy them, but we’re still strong when they have been ripped from our fingers.
So I return from Ghana and find myself on my knees for the people in my own country. Will you join me?