“It’s all about Manhattan,” Nora McDermott told the New York Times as she stood in a relief center last week. Ms McDermott lives in the Rockaways section of New York City, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and her expression of frustration in the midst of a continuing blackout in her neighbordhood were a reference to another borough, now fully lit. “It was unbelievable, to see Manhattan get power,” she said. “Was I surprised they got it quicker? Not really.”
Ms. McDermott’s frustration was absolutely understandable. And her broader sentiments were most likely shared even by people beyond the city limits. At times the media coverage of the “superstorm” could make one think that New York and New Jersey were the only areas touched by Sandy’s fury. Yet beyond the other hard-hit states (almost every one from North Carolina to Maine ) Sandy exacted a terrible toll in the Caribbean. In Cuba, for example, an estimated 200,000 homes were destroyed. In Haiti, the storm destroyed, damaged or flooded the homes of 20,000 people. The cost of the damage in the Bahamas is expected to reach $300 million.
For those directly affected by natural disasters, focusing on one’s loved ones and neighbors is natural and sensible. It’s usually all that one can do. Grieving the loss of family and friends, and lamenting the destruction of homes and livelihoods is utterly draining--physically, emotionally and spiritually. And living without heating and hot water (particularly if one is caring for children or the elderly) can be a full-time job.
But for the rest of us--those unaffected by the hurricane--it’s important to consider those who may live farther afield. Haiti and Cuba need our help as much as Manhattan and Mantoloking. And when the Rockaways have finally found some much-needed relief, there will still be places in our world that are permanently blacked out, without electricity or clean water. This is the lot of many millions of people year round, and while one develops strategies, it is still a grind and is still a difficult life.
May Sandy open our hearts to our neighbors, and also to those we may never meet but whom Christ asks us to care for.