Hello Everyone. Normally this blog pokes fun at things, but not today. Right now, nothing is funny. I have a feeling this will be a fairly long blog post, but I hope you will read it to the end, because I need to get it out.
I live on the Jersey Shore. To be more specific, I live on the mainland in Ocean County, smack-dab in between Seaside Heights and Long Beach Island…two areas that have been completely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. My town has been devastated on the bay front areas, and torn apart in the inland parts of our beautiful town too.
I was very fortunate, and although I am not the most religious person, I have been thanking God for days for sparing me and my family. I live a few blocks from the water, and by what I think is a miracle, the tidal flood stopped about a block from my house. A huge tree fell outside of my house into the street, snapping poles in half like wafers, and pulling lines down everywhere. Miraculously, my house was completely unscathed. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I do know that we were incredibly lucky.
For those of you reading this who are not from New Jersey, I know you have seen the pictures on the news of the destruction here. I’m sure you cringe or just stare at them in disbelief. You can multiply that feeling by a million, for those of us who live here and grew up frequenting the beaches and boardwalks, or spending lazy days on the Barnegat Bay on our boats see it in magnification. We stare at the destruction and envision our childhoods, our liveliness, and everything we have ever known, knowing what it used to look like, in comparison to now.
I am a teacher at the high school that the students of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, as well as other destroyed waterfront communities attend. Some of my friends, my co-workers, and my students have lost everything. When we go back to school, my job will be a thousand times harder than it ever was. Algebra suddenly becomes highly unimportant. Letting them come in and talk it out will be the education they will receive, because it is what they will need most. I keep trying to figure out what I will even say to them. What can I say to a teenager who has lost everything? I honestly don’t know, but what I do know is that I will have the strength to give them whatever support they need when they walk into my classroom, starting with big, tight hugs, mixed with tears. I will hide my broken heart. Theirs is broken more than mine.
My power was restored last night, and I have never been so thankful for electricity in my life. Unfortunately, my neighbors here and so many others in my town and the surrounding areas are still living in darkness. I felt a twinge of guilt flipping on the coffee maker this morning, knowing others wish that’s how their day was starting today. I cried (again) when I put my steaming cup of coffee on the counter and stared at it, because the tiniest things now bring big emotions with them.
I will probably never feel the same about complete darkness. I will never forget what it felt like to stare into that darkness in the height of the storm, literally wrapped around my daughter on the living room floor and praying for safety as the storm came whipping through. The sound of the lashing winds is something I hope you never know, and it is something I will never forget.
My husband is a police officer here. He was out in that storm, and has been out every night since, working to help and protect the people of this ravaged town. I had no way to contact him during the storm because everyone’s cell phones failed, and words cannot describe the terror I felt inside about that. How would he know if we needed him? How would I know that he was alright? I never want to know that feeling again.
Speaking of cell phones, we all learned quickly here just how dependent we are on them, as well as what it’s like to pray for bars to be on the screen. Service was incredibly sporadic, and getting a text or hearing someone’s voice for a second was like getting the Christmas present you wished for as a child. At least you knew others were alright, even if just for a mere second, but then it would go dead again, and your stomach would knot right back up. I will say that the amount of people that care about you becomes quickly apparent, and sometimes from places that you wouldn’t expect. I am incredibly grateful for the people in my life that love me.
Facebook, when I could finally get it on my phone yesterday, has been an amazing tool. I was able to see that my friends were “ok” (a term I use very loosely right now), and I was able to get my first look at the damage here via pictures. I thought I knew what I would see because I had listened to the radio in my car for days, but there was no preparing myself for that in actuality. I stared in disbelief, and then sobbed looking at those pictures. It was beyond the realm of my imagination, and truthfully it still is. Our beloved Jersey Shore was demolished. Seeing it with my own eyes made the nightmare a fact, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. We all say the same thing here, after we get our first look at the pictures for ourselves. (BTW, if you are on Facebook, please like the following page: Jersey Shore Hurricane News. It has been in existence since Hurricane Irene came through last year, and is absolutely amazing. The guys that run this do it for free and are like heroes to all of us. We all use it here for information year round, and it will give you the reality of what it is to be here, more than I ever could. It also has great information about making donations to those who need it most. Just be careful to read thoroughly and use some common sense.)
I could continue to go on about what I experienced, but I won’t. My personal experiences are nothing compared to those around me here. Really what I want you to know most is this:
We live at the Jersey Shore, but we are nothing like “The Jersey Shore” that you see on MTV. We are people that are kind, yet as tough as nails! We are people who always stand together as one in the face of adversity. We huddle up like no others can, and take care of each other. Despite the fact that there are reports of looting and crime, that’s NOT who 99% of us are. We are people who will help one another in a time of need, without exception. Even with our own lives in tatters, we are people who help our neighbors. There is no “I” in team, and we all know it. We are standing amid destruction right now, but we see can see past it. We might currently be knocked down, but we are people that always get back up. We will rebuild this area and our lives. We will never forget what Sandy has done to us, but we will come out of this on the other side, better than ever and as one. Believe it.
We are JERSEY STRONG.