Coming to grips with being spared: Finding gratitude in the midst of survivor’s guilt

Coming to grips with being spared: Finding gratitude in the midst of survivor’s guilt

Tonight I state the obvious.

I’m thankful for luck. And geography. And weather patterns that missed me and my loved ones.

But I hate being thankful for all that. It feels selfish when I know that so many other people are truly suffering right now after Hurricane Sandy.

People are cold, homeless, hungry, worn out and grieving.

Even though I was spared, I find it hard to give thanks. It feels like because I was OK, someone else had to suffer.

My heart hurts for these people.

Why not me?

Disaster guilt.

I’ve had it before. You probably have too. Hurricane Katrina. 9/11. The 2006 tsunami. The list goes on and on. Just name your poison.

Why them? Why not us? Why am I warm and safe and dry … and alive? How come I can account for every single person I love when so many others can’t?

How many people are going to die sad deaths from trying to heat their homes with gas grills or get sick from spending too many nights in below-freezing weather? How will the Staten Island mother whose two toddlers were swept out of her arms during the storm ever sleep again?

How can anyone possibly bear this?

Looking for the good … and finding some

So where is the gratitude in all this?

I know that after a string of disasters many years ago, where I sat and cried in front of my TV, sent in my money and felt completely helpless to be of use to people in need, I was moved to action.

With my sister, I started a food drive for local kids who were so poor they didn’t eat when the school cafeteria was closed for the winter holidays. You can read more about that here — and yes, we’ll be doing it again this year and I’ll let you know how can you help if you want to.

I didn’t go looking to start the food drive. It sort of found me. By the time it did, I was practically bursting to help someone in a real way — a way that would involve me giving something to someone with my own two hands, looking them in the eyes and letting them know, face-to-face, that I cared about them even though I’d never met them before — instead of sending a check.

Now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I see this same thing happening all around me. I see posts on Facebook and messages from my community news service that people are mobilizing — of their own accord. People have had it with sending in checks — although, yes, that’s important and useful too.

But they see where it’s not enough — where services are inadequate or just too slow. They’re jumping in to fix things themselves. They’re filling in the gaps where government services and the Red Cross haven’t been enough. Then they’re getting in their cars and driving all that stuff they collected directly to where it’s needed.

And with all of the political grousing and divisiveness of late, I’m betting no one is withholding a hot meal  or a warm blanket from someone because of political leanings.

Takin’ it to the streets

I’m not happy about this storm. I’ve heard a hundred individual stories that break my heart.

But some good came out it after all.

Tonight I’m grateful that in the face of a horrifying situation, so many people have risen to the occasion. They haven’t waited for permission or instruction. They have inconvenienced themselves and lost sleep and spent money and taken off work — all to help people they’ve never met.

I’m grateful to see that in the face of so much destruction, human compassion is alive and well.

Thank you to everyone who has donated time, money or supplies for people who are in need right now. Even if you can’t give much, give what you can. As someone who has run a food drive for many years, I can tell you that even $5 goes a long way — think of it as a week’s worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It all adds up. Together, we can make a real difference. 

AND … PERFECT TIMING. I just saw this pop up on my Facebook feed — a great example of people just jumping in and mobilizing to give the people of Staten Island Thanksgiving this year. The page also lists other volunteer opportunities. Check it out:  httpss://www.facebook.com/StatenIslandThanksgiving2012

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Writer/blogger.
Philosopher/raconteur.
New-age smartass.

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