In my last post, Running With Sandy, I urged runners idled by the cancellation of the New York City Marathon to volunteer their time to the disaster relief efforts. The message ran over and over inside my head until it turned into a case of put up, or shut up, and Monday I drove to Staten Island to help clean out a house destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. With eleven days remaining until the Bucks County Marathon, I found more motivation, hope and truth in the densely populated borough of New York City than I had preparing for my previous twelve marathons.
It was bright and sunny one week after Sandy hit shore, much like a day three years ago when I ran from Fort Wadsworth, through the battery under the Verrazano Bridge and out onto the Staten Island beach. But the world changed last week for the people of New Jersey and New York and rather than run, I mopped mud from the second-floor of a residential home of people I’d never met in my life and will never see again. These people were survivors in a marathon for their lives, living in unimaginable conditions for a week, with no end in sight—their lives devastated.
The ride down Midland Avenue was what I expected—long lines to the gas pumps, downed trees, damaged homes and no power to the traffic signals. But when I got within a few blocks of the beach everything changed. First, I saw clothes hanging on a cyclone fence; not just a few items, but so many clothes that the fence was completely covered. I pulled to the curb and got out. There were boxes of clothes covering the sidewalk for a city block, dazed people who looked as if they hadn’t slept in days—six days to be exact—walking around picking from them.
I got back in my Jeep and continued driving toward the beach, slower now because cars, trucks and emergency vehicles were backed up, a police officer on every corner directing traffic. Many side streets were impassible—entire sections of houses, debris and cars strewn about like toys; storefronts burned to the ground, more people wandering. It was like a war zone.
I turned left on Father Capodanno Boulevard and drove north on the coastal road. Entire houses were missing, a huge hole in the ground where I supposed a home or business once was, vehicles pushed every which way—on their sides, upside down, in holes, on cinderblock walls.
When I got to the volunteer center, which was a trailer in a lot, I was given addresses and joined a couple of women from Brooklyn who also came to volunteer. We drove to a house and spent the day helping to clean up mud and debris. A car sat on top of another car in front of the house—it belonged to the woman who lived there. When the waters were rising, we were told, the woman ran to the second floor and climbed onto her bed, not knowing if it would continue to rise and she would be drowned. There was a knock on the window. It was someone in a rowboat to rescue her, but she refused to go. Fortunately, the water stopped and then subsided. She lived—an elderly couple down the street was not as lucky. Her’s was one of thousands of stories from Hurricane Sandy. It’s a miracle that the death toll was only 110.
I had watched news footage of the disaster in New Jersey and New York for several days, but I didn’t feel its impact until I walked down the street and into the home of the woman who lost all the possessions it took her a lifetime to accumulate, yet she was thankful to be alive. It is impossible to feel her anguish.
So consider contributing to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, or contact a local charity of your choice who is supporting the disaster relief, and help the people who lost so much during Hurricane Sandy.
My favorite marathon axiom is “Twenty miles of hope and six miles of truth.” I saw hope and truth on Staten Island yesterday that will remain with me forever.