By Christine Baker
Off the Trail, USA
Five weeks ago, I was still Walking for Good along the trails in New York and New Jersey oblivious to how my life was about to change forever. I was walking to remind people to practice kindness and help others in need, and I had walked over 800 miles. But things changed abruptly. On October 28, I spent the day loading sand bags around my home close to the banks of the Hudson River in New York. While none of the waterfront homes along the Hudson River received an evacuation order, we prepared as best we could and expected to ride out the storm at home.
On October 29, I sat huddled in a room listening in horror as the 14-foot storm surge of the Hudson River slammed into my house. The River was relentless that night. Wave by rising wave, the River brought gifts in the manner of boats and 150-foot piers that had been ripped from their moorings. With each wave, I heard railroad ties and debris hit the sliding glass doors on the lower level of the house. I heard wind ripping shingles off the roof. Although it was dark, the bluish light from transformers blowing all up and down the River communities eerily lit up the night sky.
I don't know exactly what time it was when I stood in my kitchen, shaking. I'm not sure what time it was when the sliding glass doors on the lower level shattered, allowing the River free reign in my house. I remember looking down at my stairwell watching the muddy water swirl higher and higher on the landing. I recall thinking this is what it must have felt like on the Titanic as it sank.
Before the Storm
Debris from the Flood
On October 30, I became one of those people who needed kindness from others. Like so many others, Hurricane Sandy destroyed my home and I wasn't ready for it. I wasn't ready for my life to be taken over by uncertainty and insurance adjusters. I wasn't prepared to spend countless hours cataloging every one of the thousands of items that had been damaged or destroyed. I wasn't ready to move or start a new life somewhere else.
Yet, here I am.
I'd like to think I am the type of person that doesn't get too connected to material things. Spending months living out of a backpack taught me the things I really need to survive are few and far between. But that said, there were things lost in that storm that can never be replaced: old home movies, photographs, Christmas ornaments my grandparents had hung on their own tree year after year, recipes from family members long departed. Thinking of these things being pulled away by the Hudson River surge makes me sad and a little bit angry. And it makes me realize that I am tied to possessions. I am tied to the possessions that remind me of the people I love.
I've heard the saying that life doesn't give us more than we can handle. I've been told that I am strong person and I will get through this. I've been told to have faith that things will get better. I know deep down these things are true. But in the moment when I stood in front of a pile of my water-soaked belongings unsure of where I would lay my head next, it became hard to have faith in much of anything.
This is the moment when I had to ask myself, "What are you made of?" I cannot control the circumstances of my life, but I can control my reaction to them. I also realized that it's absolutely okay to allow people to help. Without even being asked, my true friends came to my aid. Friends from high school, friends from work, neighbors and some people I didn't even know offered their help and I took it.
I have always prided myself on being a strong person, capable and able to handle most situations. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I realized that I don't have to be the strongest person all the time. I can ask for help. I can break down and someone will be there to pick me up, or at the very least, offer me a shot of tequila. The best friend is the one who reaches out to help without being asked to. Those are the friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
In today's mail, I received a note from a family in South Carolina I have never met. They sent me a gift card to Target and hoped that I would use the money to help purchase something I lost in the Hurricane. This is the hope I have always carried inside of me – that we human beings are capable of such kindness. Together we can get through anything life throws at us. And while it may be tempting to go off in the wilderness alone and live like Thoreau for a while, it is the people we share life with that makes life worth living.
As I conclude, I hear Bob Marley on my radio singing, "Everything is gonna be all right."
Yes. It will. When the spring comes and the snow melts, I may be living somewhere else, but I will still be Walking for Good. There are a great many kind deeds to be repaid.