How do you make sense of a natural destruction that leaves behind the loss of lives, severe turmoil and heartbreaking devastation?
Left in the rubble of Hurricane Sandy’s path, millions of lives are being disrupted in a multitude of ways. Fiscally, the damage is estimated around $20 billion in property damage and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business, according to IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm that reports it to be one of the costliest natural disasters on U.S. record.
Innocently named “Sandy,” it was a storm of unprecedented proportions. Typically, natural disasters are referred to as an act of God, which is a legal term for events outside of human control. However, that definition is left to personal discernment as some people would not believe in a God who delivers so much pain and suffering.
But that conundrum aside, it’s important to acknowledge what happens to the human condition when we experience such monumental devastation. I once interviewed a married couple who survived the Holocaust. They shared that during the war, survivors looked out for one another. Selflessness trumped selfishness. Compassion and concern for one another overrode self-centeredness.
After their release, as they began to rebuild their lives, they noticed how quickly people found their way back to self-focus. Will we?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie promised “to do everything we can do to get aid” to those affected by the storm, saying there would be “no bureaucracy, no red tape.” Is that simply political rhetoric?
However, the larger question is, can we sustain our natural inclination to help one another after the intensity of the drama recedes? On Oct. 30, in The New York Times, Jonathan Zimmerman wrote in his op/ed piece, “If Washington really wants to preserve the land of opportunity, lawmakers must consider new ways to help our neediest citizens — and not just after a hurricane. The real issue isn’t what we do when the winds start blowing. It’s what to do when they stop.”
Whether a disaster is man-made or “an act of God,” we will rush in to help in a crisis. Be it a tsunami, a war or a kitten up a tree, our instinctual humanitarian urge is to help.
The challenge we face now is within ourselves. It’s easy to fall back into complacency when the immediate rush of the drama lessens. So often our complacency centers on we’re too busy. “I would like to help, but … .” Granted, there is a time to say yes and a time to say no, and it’s up to each of us to decide where our loyalties lie in any given moment.
Right now, within this immediate crisis, there lies an incredible opportunity to shift into a “higher” gear of gratitude and service. In order to do so, we must distinguish the difference between activity and action.
Activity is about being busy. Often we do a multitude of things carelessly or without thinking. Some of us stay busy to prevent having to feel our feelings, or we’re busy trying to force things to happen.
Action is different. It is well thought-out. It requires less energy and is more effective than “activity” because it is focused and purposeful. It easily adapts to the needs of the whole not just the individual. Service becomes a natural, spontaneous way of living.
If there is a silver lining to Hurricane Sandy, it is staring us in the face right now. We can rise to the occasion and “unself,” as a teacher of mine used to say. Then feel immense gratitude for the winds that blew complacency out of our lives once and for all.