It’s the eighth day after the storm. We remain dark, but still I see the light.
Both of my boys, my beautiful children, have autism. One struggles to make himself understood, and both have an almost religious adherence to routine. Despite their collective need for structure, my offspring have been absolutely amazing during Sandy. My eldest, who is severely affected, has lost it only once. Ironically, it was last Monday at the height of the storm, where he picked up his shoes and dragged me to the door, regarding me with plaintive eyes and emitting cries begging me to leave. That, miraculously, was the most drama we had all week.
I am well aware that not all families in New Jersey with or without differently-abled kids fared so well. When we got out of our internet-barren house on Tuesday, I saw the pictures. I viewed entire towns razed by wind and sea. Eventually I came to that now iconic photo of a roller coaster's remains, the very one that terrified me for years, and enthralled my oldest son.
I have to stop looking.
Some of the stories from the storm’s havoc have been heartbreaking. Sea Bright, the beach where I spent my youth, destroyed. Mantoloking, where no home was spared at least some structural damage, its bridge bay-submerged, devastated. Some homes on Long Beach Island, where my family once had a summer cottage, swept out to sea while still inhabited as Sandy exercised her wrath.
Residents of towns all up and down the Jersey shore and some throughout the state are displaced from their possessions, their pets, or the skeletal structure of what remains of their residences. They are the newly homeless, isolated and dispossessed, relying completely upon others for news of their houses or loved ones. Staying at shelters, or if lucky, with friends or relatives, theirs is now a profound disconnect to the world.
The wreckage is unfathomable.
And yet, during this week, when I’ve held my phone up to the kitchen window to access my two minutes on Facebook, I see that offers of assistance, safe lodging, or simply of solace, abound. This social network becomes the place where we receive our news, and it is filled with status updates offering showers, food, or simply a warm living room floor upon which to rest. I witness people searching valiantly for rental homes for complete strangers. I watch as others lend helping hands to those with whom they’ve had contentious relationships in the past, old wounds buried, differences rendered catastrophe- irrelevant. We will match those in need with those who can lend a helping hand. We will come to each others’ aid, politics and viewpoints be damned.
We are Jersey strong. We will re-connect.
There are of course the more personal stories, the tales of the individual lives of family and friends. A neighbor’s mom whose first floor is flooded ceiling high, rendering her home uninhabitable. Another neighbor’s parent evacuated in chest-high water with rope and a prayer through freezing tides, barely purchasing higher ground in time. Rumors fly of looting in Bay Head, JCP&L imposters, stolen generators in our town. A family of six with an autistic child searching for shelter. Thousands of families still blessed with a home, who still remain in the dark.
And yet, hope reigns. When I have access to the outside world I read about commitments by ten states to help repair our power stations. On one of our escapes to warmth we witness trucks from Virginia, Texas, and Michigan trekking across Route 195, intent on reconstructing cable and connections for our residents. I devour a New York Times article already discussing the regrowth of Jersey’s playgrounds, such as Jenkinson’s in Point Pleasant Beach, where for six years my sons have delighted in sun, sand, and surf. The Garden State will not be defeated.
We are Jersey strong. We will rebuild.
There is a benefit concert in New York that most of Monmouth, Ocean, and many other counties can’t see, a coming together of talent that raises twenty-three million for our beleaguered shores. Plans abound for fundraisers, school by school, business by business, town by town. My own family is offered no less than a dozen sincere offers to stay, ranging from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to as far as Washington, DC. These offers came despite knowing that uprooting Justin would mean perhaps a week of sleepless nights for all, seven days of watching him truly suffer his own particular brand of disconnect. Families with differently-abled kids remain online sharing resources and dispensing advice, or just as important, simply provide an understanding ear. Clearly, we are hurt. Also clearly, we care.
Our communities, all of our wondrously diverse communities, are resilient. We will recover.
We are Jersey strong. We will rise.