The Other I

November 4, 2012

The best and the worst on the water’s edge

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:38 pm

A friend who is a member of a hastily re-constituted help group initially set up on 9/11 is now working with families in the Brooklyn shelters set up for the homeless after Sandy.

I asked her what it was like close to the rock face.  I think she is seeing the best and the worst of the American spirit.  One wonders exactly what or who are the real Frankenstorms:

So many have nothing – I mean nothing.  In the shelter where I am there was no loss of human life but there are many kids traumatized to the core, parents too traumatized themselves to comfort and soothe as they have done in the past, and animals equally disoriented.

Someone left off a boatload of pumpkins.  So the children and I are carving pumpkins, making pies together, and roasting pumpkin seeds.  It gives them something to focus on and bind some of the anxiety so they can talk as we work.  Initially, I had some anxiety about their displacing anger as they were carving – but none of that – in fact they are overly careful.  Making and sharing food can often be so healing. – and what comes out is amazing – children holding children, and consoling each other.  Children who have not been displaced are coming to the shelter with toys – some even with their very best, most favourite toys.

Here in the shelter where I am now, Target (the retail stores) pulled up with a huge truck of supplies and has donated blankets, cots, towels, socks, sweaters, food, and almost anything else people could use.  Honestly if there were a way to contribute to Target directly, I would.  I shop there, though because they have a policy that on a daily basis they give 15% of their earnings to charity. 

Seeing what so many people who have lost everything are going through, it is totally draining for me and draining me of empathy for those who have their homes left and have not suffered loss of life but are complaining and pushing  people out of their way.  This is very different from 9/11.  Today folks are honking and screaming at each other on the roads – people cutting in front of each other in line for food and water, for gas or buses. Many people seem to be solely into their own well-being and comfort

Today when the Target truck was unloading supplies using a ramp from the truck to the shelter, a well-dressed women pushing a very expensive child’s trolley complained that the truck was blocking her way on the sidewalk.  I suggested she walk around the truck and offered to make sure no traffic was coming.  But she was furious that she was being asked to actually walk on the street.  “I don’t believe I’m hearing you,” I said.  “People inside have nothing left but the clothes they are wearing.  Nothing.  Take your $3,000 trolley and walk on the other side of the street.”  At this point a crowd had begun to gather, and as the woman walked to the sidewalk across the street, they cheered.



  1. Thanks for sharing your friend’s comments, Terry. There are two shelters fairly near us. The workers are doing twelve-hour shifts. The people who are being housed in them are not from this neighborhood but from places like Gowanus and Red Hook, I expect. The Gowanus canal overflowed into homes and stores, and the canal (a network, actually) is already a designated federal toxic cleanup site long overdue for attention. The situation in public housing projects in places like the Rockaways seems dire, though they have been getting little news coverage: not only no heat or electricity (so, no working elevators) but because of the the blackout at night a very dangerous situation in terms of crime. The nights have gotten quite cold, which means anyone trapped on a high floor and unable to relocate will have a hard time keeping warm.


    Comment by pianomusicman — November 4, 2012 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for sharing, too, Tom. The media coverage makes it look and sound like a war zone. My husband who lived through WWII and the bombing raids here in England agrees. In some ways, it seems worse than 9/11. 9/11 was a terrible shock,of course, but with Sandy the number of displaced and homeless people and the damage to the infrastructure is so much more extensive. According to the news over here tonight, there are still close to a million people without electricity, and yes, the housing situation as the cold sets in is going to be dire.


      Comment by theotheri — November 4, 2012 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

  2. 30,000-40,000 New Yorkers, many from public housing, will have to be permanently relocated, probably into trailers as happened in New Orleans. And we’re expecting a new storm Wednesday evening.


    Comment by pianomusicman — November 6, 2012 @ 2:11 am | Reply

    • Oh Tom- it makes me realize how embarrassingly luxurious my life has been. Sleeping in a tent on vacation is my only experience of roughing it. Terry


      Comment by Terry Sissons — November 6, 2012 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

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