Last Saturday I went to bed late into the night in my apartment in Queens, New York with a knot in my stomach. Sure, there was a much-hyped hurricane heading towards the city and the winds were picking up rapidly, but primarily I was nervous about the launch of The Changeover that was supposed to take place the next morning. Amy, Juan José, and I had been working non-stop the past couple of weeks to get the site ready, and I was extremely anxious to finally share our project with others.
Sunday morning I awoke with butterflies. However, as the day progressed and I basked in the new-site glow, the knot in my stomach stayed put. The howl of the wind became more and more menacing, the sky got rapidly darker, the grocery store down the street turned into a panicked madhouse, and my Landlord showed up with plastic wrap and duct-tape to attempt to safe-guard my leak-prone windows. My roommate and I began to realize that this was not another over-hyped-for-TV-ratings-storm. Sandy was serious.
I woke up on Monday morning to reports of deaths, destruction, and devastation in New York City and the surrounding areas. Most of my friends in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan were without power, heat, and hot water. Some had to be evacuated, and still can’t get back into their apartments a week later. Half of Staten Island was under water. The Jersey Shore had been all but wiped away. Just miles away from me in my own borough a fire had wiped out over a hundred homes in Breezy Point, Queens.
I was extraordinarily lucky, almost embarrassingly so. My area in Queens (Astoria for those of you familiar with the New York City neighborhoods) was almost completely intact. The biggest inconveniences (for me, at least) were finicky internet and the loss of work. We didn’t even lose power or experience any flooding. Stuck at home with no money, no running subways, and no car, all I could do was absorb the news of the crumbled communities around me and count my blessings. I felt helpless.
So throughout the week I did what I do best—I buried myself in tennis and writing. But as the week wore on I couldn’t help but wonder … at what point does distraction and diversion turn into delusion? I suppose in times of crisis we all grasp to what know and love, and find comfort in the familiar. However, I wasn’t really in a time of crisis at all.
Regardless, this week I found solace in tennis, though that solace came with a heavier dose of guilt than usual. As I watched the incredibly inspiring Jerzy Janowicz storm through the field in Paris there was a part of me that wished that tennis were a bigger sport and that more people in the New York area knew about the story so they could be distracted and inspired too. A much bigger part of me felt shame for even thinking that. These people needed real miracles, real assistance, not the type of fantasy and hope that sport provides.
This conflict goes beyond my own conscience. The world is a complicated place, and we are all constantly looking for a refuge. Some find refuge in friends, family, religion, or music. Others (and I suspect many readers of this blog) find their refuge in sports. Sport is said to have a unifying and healing effect during hard times, but at what point does a distraction from the problem at hand cross the line from an aid in recovery to a hindrance? Is it all just a show providing a false sense of security and hope for those who haven’t been impacted by the disaster-at-hand in any significant way?
This was a big issue in New York last week. The marathon was scheduled to be run, and Mayor Bloomberg waited until two days before to officially cancel it. He had hoped that the marathon would be a symbol of resiliency, but ultimately the amount of resources the marathon required– as well as the proximity of the route to the totaled parts of the city– caused common sense to prevail. I, along with countless others, applauded when the marathon was cancelled. However I didn’t bat an eyelash when the NFL or NBA games went on in nearby arenas. Was it because they were behind closed doors and therefore weren’t as in-your-face about the draining of resources? Or was it just because selfishly, as a sports fan, I wanted things to go on?
Of course, this all begets a bigger issue — the fact that there is always horrific stuff going on in the world, but things rarely stop. Natural disasters happen everywhere. There’s always disease and poverty and war and death. It’s only when it hits us in the face — disrupts our community, our creature comforts, or our entertainment sources — that we actually stop and think about our priorities. The truth is that for many of us, these distractions that we choose to find solace in have become a much bigger part of our lives than is healthy, and they certainly take up time that we could spend focusing on more important issues.
I’ve lived in New York for eight years now, and therefore the aftermath of Sandy literally hit close to home. I have found my own ways to help through donations and volunteering, but it seems so insignificant. I have promised myself that as the national spotlight moves on I won’t forget about the victims. But for me and for most others, life moves on. I’ll go back to work, watch senseless television, write about tennis, frazzle over the NFL, and continue to develop this site. I want to keep helping people who had their lives destroyed by the storm and I want to see this city get put back together. I don’t think that all of these things are mutually exclusive. I hope I’m not delusional.