When a force of nature attacks, our only response must be kindness

When all is lost – lives, homes, jobs – history will remember what we did in response

Lisa Tierney-Keogh: ‘The eye of the storm is a scary place’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Lisa Tierney-Keogh: ‘The eye of the storm is a scary place’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

In late 2012, a storm at sea off the coast of the US ramped up to a Category 1 hurricane and hit the east coast of America with a vengeance.

Hurricanes, like viruses, have a shape. They shift and grow, change course, always moving. But unlike viruses, you can see the size of a hurricane before it hits.

This particular storm in 2012 was named Sandy. A soft, gentle name that defied the damage it would inflict. At the time I lived in Brooklyn, New York. I was almost nine months pregnant and was fit to burst, both physically and emotionally.

I watched with caution as Hurricane Sandy gathered strength at sea. My husband, a native of New Orleans, had taught me much about hurricanes and what those crazy-looking weather maps really mean. We knew what was coming was bad.

The gas tank in our van was barely a quarter full and this trip to faraway Queens would deplete the little we had

As winds lashed New York City and huge waves enveloped land and homes, we evacuated some friends to our apartment. The skyscraper they were living in was starting to sway and had lost power. Our friends arrived at our apartment moments before the bridges and tunnels were closed, effectively shutting down the city. Petrol stations were running out of gas, ATMs were emptying. There was no power below 14th street in Manhattan. In short, it was a demolition zone. The city that never sleeps was passed out.

Reports came in that the Far Rockaways, a low-income neighbourhood on a barrier island in Queens, was badly hit. We owned a minivan and as some of the only people we knew with wheels, a decision was made to fill it with friends and supplies and drive out to The Rockaways to help deliver essential items to those in need.

With a baby practically in my birth canal, I was hesitant. Resistant, even. A primal urge to protect myself and my bump kicked in. The gas tank in our van was barely a quarter full and this trip to faraway Queens would deplete the little we had. If I went into labour, we wouldn’t have enough to get me to the hospital. As we drove further and further out through the total devastation of The Rockaways, dropping bags and bags of nappies, food and other essentials, I felt an intense, selfish desire to turn back and protect my own little world.

The reality was impossible to ignore. Live electricity lines lay dangerously on the ground in pools of water. Residents stood outside what was left of their homes, shaking, shocked. They were the lucky ones. We kept driving until we ran out of supplies and drove back towards home.

Debris surrounds a house that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2013. Photograph: Karsten Moran/The New York Times
Debris surrounds a house that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2013. Photograph: Karsten Moran/The New York Times

This is not a self-aggrandising, heroic story. It’s an allegory about what we do to help our most vulnerable people in the darkest of hours. When all is lost: lives, homes, jobs, what history will remember is what we did in response.

When an unknown force of nature such as a hurricane, or a virus, attacks us, our only response to each other must be kindness. As businesses fold, jobs evaporate, incomes are lost, we must remember that families are apart from each other, vulnerable people are alone and frightened, victims of this virus are sick, and most importantly, lives are being lost.

Nothing else matters right now except for us to keep the lights on in our souls. For ourselves, and each other.

In his book, The Plague, author Albert Camus wrote: “There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is – common decency.”

When this virus moves on, we will raise our heads and look around at each other

It is decency, and kindness, that will see us through this.

Do everything you can with kindness. If you are a bank, be kind to the customers who once sacrificed so much to keep you afloat. If you are a landlord, be kind and freeze your rents. If you are an employer and have to lay off your employees, do it with kindness, remembering the damage being done.

The shape and size of this horror is ever shifting, growing, battering every facet of us. There is no map to tell us its next hit, no forecast to let us know when it will clear. All we can do in this is mind each other. We do this with compassion. We do this with kindness.

The eye of the storm is a scary place. But it passes. And when it does, you can see what is left in its wake. When this virus moves on, we will raise our heads and look around at each other. We’ll take stock of our new world. Whatever it looks like, whatever shape we’re in, let us say that we faced this moment with kindness. When we get through this, let us say that we helped each other in our darkest hour. And let us say that together, we found the light, to see us through the storm.

Lisa Tierney-Keogh is a playwright. Follow her on Twitter @LisaTK

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