As I piece this column together on the cusp of Election Day, the fate of our presidential race has yet to be decided. Granted, over the past several weeks, multitudes of early votes have been cast, absentee ballots from near and far have been duly harvested and an embarrassment of straw polling has dominated the news cycle to the point of intolerableness. Never mind the ever-present spin of so-called pundits, the glut of ugly ad campaigns and the pervasive climate of divisiveness that that sort of milieu begets.
Even so, it is impossible for me to know which candidate emerged victorious.
Oddly enough, I don't especially care anymore. It's not that the issues are any less important to me, or that I've grown disinterested in the direction this country may or may not be headed. It's just that the tragic nature of Superstorm Sandy was and continues to be so much larger than any political event could ever hope to be. Perhaps more importantly, the outpouring of empathy for those affected -- regardless of party affiliation -- coupled with coordinated relief efforts in response to such an epic scale of devastation have been nothing short of remarkable. The silver lining, as it were, in these darkest of times.
Day after day, as I tuned in to witness unprecedented ruination up and down our nation's eastern shoreline (as well as further inland) and listened hard as people from all walks of life shared their stories of loss and unparalleled upheaval, I was taken by the virtual nonexistence of politics. It was as if the tumult of impassioned citizens, ones who were thoroughly obsessed with the notion of voicing support for this or that candidate only a short while ago, had been silenced. Instead, voices of compassion, solidarity and true grit prevailed -- as floodwaters rose, as fires raged and as an ungodly number of homes and livelihoods were swallowed by the sea. By and large, people set aside their differences in the wake of a monster storm to do what was right and to do what was necessary in order to help those in need. In the process, they became more human.
Aside from restoring my faith in the idea that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things, Hurricane Sandy has also plagued me with guilt. While the storm ravaged neighborhoods, cities and towns across more than a dozen states, Canada and the Caribbean, my greatest source of angst revolved around the question of how we'd keep our bearded dragons warm in the event of a lengthy power failure. Of course, my husband almost bought a generator, so we were fairly certain that we (along with our dear lizards) would almost stay warm. There was also the dire matter of keeping our pajama-clad, home-from-school-again kids entertained for godknowshowlong. Naturally, I fed them a steady diet of electronics prior to Sandy's arrival, banking on the notion that we wouldn't be afforded that luxury for very long.
But I was wrong. We never did lose our electricity, or the extravagance of hot showers or access to fully functioning toilets or even a modicum of heat throughout the entire ordeal. We also had a roof over our heads, warm beds each night and safe drinking water. To say we were fortunate doesn't begin to describe our lot -- even if the kids did wear their pajamas for two solid days. Never mind the wind that roared outside like a freight train, or that I sent my husband on a battery-procurement-mission-from-hell or that I prepared enough food for a small country and did roughly 37 loads of laundry in preparation (i.e. engaged in some sort of deranged hurricane-induced nesting behavior).
At any rate, I can't shake the shame. Nor can I wrap my mind around the devastation so many people faced as a result of this superstorm. That said, elections may come and go, but the tangible, almost village-like sense of community cultivated by this inherently nightmarish event may endure -- which is a beautiful thing. Likewise, altruism is an equally beautiful thing, as evidenced by organized efforts to garner aid for those impacted by the storm. To learn more, visit CNN.com's "How to Help After the Superstorm," an article which details at least eight ways people can become involved and offer assistance to those in need.
Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel
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