The Jersey Shore has been resurrected just in time for the beach season, while the only bathroom in my house, also a victim of Superstorm Sandy, is still in ruins. Fortunately the most important feature is in place, but the sink remains in a box in our living room, and the tub is encased in plastic wrap to prevent water from seeping into the walls where the grout should be. Showering is a bit like stepping inside a giant sandwich bag.
A combination of factors has seriously stalled the construction on our bathroom. Luckily I now know that I can adapt to almost any circumstance because of the current state of our home.
Another lesson learned since Sandy is that help often comes in the least likely of sources. I am so grateful to the individuals who opened their bathroom every other night for three months as I schlepped my two kids, an infant, and a suitcase through snow and freezing rain so that they could bathe. Special thanks to the young man named Jake who entertained the children while I enjoyed an occasional shower, too.
Sandy damaged our home and destroyed one of our cars approximately nine months ago. It was also the final nail in the coffin of my marriage. Though the bathroom construction is a daily reminder of my troubles, I thought about the storm today because of an encounter I had with a co-worker.
With my limited access to our database I had to ask someone else to generate a list for me so that I could perform a task for my boss. This was nothing out of the realm of her responsibilities, however when I politely requested this favor, I was met with resistance. I decided she must be having a difficult day and that her animosity was misdirected. Meanwhile I did my best to pacify her, thanking her for her time. On my short walk back to my office, however, all I could think was, “Look lady, we have a common mission and it is posted on our website if you need a refresher!” We are all in this together. We are a team.
Suddenly, Chris Christie’s words “We are stronger than the storm” took on a new meaning. I endured Sandy because of all the people who came to my family’s rescue. I am surviving the divorce and other calamities through the kindness of friends and random people God has placed in my path. For instance, one co-worker brings me breakfast regularly and reminds me to take my vitamins, while the elderly father of a neighbor cleaned my yard, and two old friends chipped in to buy me a mani/pedi simply because they know I will never treat myself with so little money at hand these days. And there are still others who have come to my aid in so many big and small ways.
Accepting this help has been extremely humbling and uncomfortable. And unless you have experienced great loss, it is hard to comprehend just how easily everything can be taken away. I never thought I would have to rely on others for basic survival.
As a Jewish educator for years, I spent a lot of time teaching and preaching Jewish values, but through my suffering I realize that I was not living by my own lessons. Perhaps my circumstances are the result of my false piety, my arrogance, or my lack of empathy for others in difficult situations. Maybe I am being punished for worse transgressions. But I have also learned that asking why bad things happen to us is pointless since we will never know in this life. Instead I am trying to stay calm and respond positively to the challenges.
The other night, unable to sleep, I read a book by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. He suggests that we can either be victims of fate or we can take control of our own destiny. I have decided that I prefer to be in the driver seat and I am going to meander through these roadblocks, hopefully learning something along the way. I am just beginning and I recognize that I know little at this point. Still, if the unexamined life is not worth living, I am certainly living now. When possible on my journey, I will try to do what I can to help lift up others without looking down upon them first or questioning how they got in their particular circumstance. Christie is right. Together, we are stronger than the storm, but I alone am not.
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