Will Neighbor Love Persist after Hurricane Sandy?
Like many of you, when I heard the weather forecasts before Hurricane Sandy hit, I was worried. While the monster storm neared landfall, I repeatedly telephoned my younger brother in Virginia Beach and checked in via Facebook on a host of friends and former students spanning the eastern seaboard.
As I thought about those family and friends, I also began thinking about the poor, the elderly, and those with no family close by. Who would help them? What of those who couldn't afford to stock up on water and food? Before the storm, I mentioned this to dear family friends who live on Long Island. Upon hearing my concerns, Danielle recounted the details of a news report about an elderly couple who needed a generator. The gentleman had diabetes and desperately needed a way to keep his insulin refrigerated should there be a power outage. He and his wife went to several stores only to find all the generators were gone. Store owners explained that some customers purchased more generators, batteries, and flashlights than they needed. The threat of scarcity scared this couple's neighbors into hoarding, leaving them without. Some neighbors weren't being good neighbors.
Of course, not all neighbors are scared into self-interest and greed. New York Times reporter Michael Winerip, a 30-year resident of Long Beach, recently strolled about his neighborhood in the aftermath of Sandy to assess the damage. It was really bad—worse than he imagined. But amid the destruction and despondency, he found beauty in the neighborliness of his neighbors. In "The Night the Dune Failed," he tells story after story of neighbors selflessly helping one another. There was Bill Long who, despite having lost his own home, attempted to contain a fire that started in a car and soon spread to an adjacent house. There was Louis Boyle, who noticed his neighbor John Duffy was having a difficult time transporting two cases of water on his bike. As Boyle drove by in his pickup, he offered Duffy a ride home.
Winerip's report reminds me of a time when my husband and I were bad neighbors. After having lived in our apartment complex in Rochester, New York, for a few months, we still didn't know the names of our people in the apartments beside us, below us, or across the hallway. Not only did we not know their names, we may not have recognized them if we saw them on the street. Granted, our schedules were probably very different; Shawn and I were graduate students and also youth leaders. We were in and out during odd hours. Thus, we didn't often see our neighbors in the common areas of the building. Still, I wondered, What if the frail elderly woman downstairs ever needs help? What about our neighbors next door who look our age and frequently seem to have a band playing in their living room and the occasional smell of marijuana hanging about them? What of their lives? What if we need help? It occurred to me that there might be deep joy or deep pain and a need for help or companionship a few feet away, on the other side of the thin walls separating us.