Amid profound loss, how does hope survive?
“W e’ve lost everything!”
That is the stricken lament heard repeatedly in reports from the storm-savaged Atlantic coast. And it is not just a figure of speech.
The death toll wrought by Superstorm Sandy has climbed to well over 100, with more victims likely to be found. And that, of course, is the ultimate loss.
But there is almost unimaginable suffering of another, more tangible kind.
Tens of thousands of people in New York and New Jersey have been left homeless by the storm.
For some, the crisis is temporary. But for others, whose houses have been swept away, incinerated or otherwise damaged beyond any hope of repair, the catastrophe is complete.
Photographs from some of the worst-hit areas are suggestive of the images that came out of Joplin after the horrific tornado of May 22, 2011, or the earthquake and tsunami two months earlier that devastated coastal areas of Japan.
Looking at such pictures, it is difficult to imagine that the spectacle of wreckage they depict was once a place of human habitation – where good folk had planted their dreams and nourished their hopes.
And I cannot help wondering how it is possible to recover from so shattering an event. Some do. Many do, in fact – and will in spite of the present ruin.
But where do they find the courage?
Structures can be rebuilt. And many of the material things – cars, furnishings, appliances and such – can in time be replaced. But what about the rest?
So much of what constitutes a life, though of no great monetary value, is both priceless and irreplaceable.
A painting given by a friend. Letters saved away in a drawer. An album with photos of children from crib to graduation. An imperfect clay pot shaped by a tiny hand.
Trinkets and treasures in an almost forgotten box. A book of telephone numbers. The collar of a remembered dog.
Suppose all of that were gone – swept away by flood or wind, or reduced to smoking ashes in the place where memories were made.
It is one thing to imagine that kind of pain while safe and dry under a sturdy roof, far from any tempest-blown sea.
But if actually faced with the ordeal, would one have the strength to find one’s way to sunlight again? Impossible to know.
In the aftermath of Sandy, there are many thousands who have no choice and who deserve the help of those of us whom fortune spared.