We lost power for about fifteen hours, and most of that was during the night, when we slept. We had a roof over our heads and four walls to protect us from the wind and rain. We didn't lose any of our food, because we were able to bring it to the Welcome Center, where I work, and we had warm pancakes for lunch on Tuesday with the sisters who live there.
Among all of the political mudslinging and meteorology-mania, I found this quote in a Facebook post:
“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
― Mother Teresa
When I began contemplating a year of service, I was ready to go to the ends of the earth, convinced that the more removed from East Greenbush, New York, I was, the more I would learn, and the more meaningful my service would be.
Relative to Ecuador and Kenya, Philadelphia and Camden are both practically next to East Greenbush, and they are near to each other (the Ben Franklin Bridge connects the two cities, and it's only five dollars to go from NJ to PA).
I can't compare my real service experiences to hypothetical ones in a meaningful way, but I will say that I have been challenged to grow and learn in so many ways, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.
The people that have been nearest to me this past year and a half are some of the most strong, hardworking, courageous, and loving people that I have ever been blessed to encounter.
With my neighborhood faring rather well, all things considered, and both Monday and Tuesday off of work, I found myself with much time to think. I spent that time remembering the many friends and acquaintances that I knew were suffering more deeply because of the storm. They held some of my attention, but another storm captured my attention, too.
I've never been to New Orleans. I have many friends who have gone and done beautiful work there, and I think I would love to go, too. One day, I hope.
Katrina made her visit to New Orleans seven years ago, in a record-breaking hurricane season that brought devastation to so many. Just like Sandy has.
Seven years later, people are still going down to NOLA, providing help when they can, and that's awesome. No sarcasm intended. I really think that individual people and groups are doing as much as they can.
That's why I am here, in Philadelphia, right now. I am doing as much as I can for the people nearest to me.
I'm curious to see how long it will take for the northeast to recover from Sandy. I hope and pray that it won't be seven years, or seven months, or even seven weeks.
I ask myself, "Is that long?" That depends on who you're asking.
The St. Francis Inn is a soup kitchen in my neighborhood, and they served a meal yesterday despite being without power at least two hours before the meal was scheduled to begin. I don't know what they served, but I do know that whoever braved the storm to come eat must have been hungry and grateful, even if their demeanor didn't reflect it. I know some guests by name who have relied on that support for years.
Ask Diane, who just had her fourth child, what she would do for seven weeks if she couldn't rely on the support of the Inn to feed her growing family.
Or, if my own ministry, the Welcome Center, what if we just shut down for several weeks? We work with immigrants, helping them to become citizens, and whatever your position is on immigration, let me say this: the people I meet every day aren't trying to play the system, they are trying to not get played by the system.
I meet with a woman on Mondays to practice for her citizenship interview, and she is one of the most faithful of all of my students. Every Monday, at 1:30, we practice speaking and writing, answering over and over the questions she'll need to know in that interview room. The charm of her self-effacing laugh diffuses each moment that I've managed to not sufficiently communicate a point to her, again, as if it's somehow her fault.
These are the people who I am nearest to and people who I have come to know and love. They are no more or less important than those in South America, Africa, and other parts of the USA, but in my own reality, they are my world.
I doubt I'll get to New Orleans or New York any time soon.
I have English classes to teach.