From Rockaway Beach to Sanibel Island, Hurricanes Teach Tough, but Valuable Lessons

I was raised in Rockaway Beach, in Queens, New York. My folks left Rockaway and moved out of Belle Harbor shortly before Hurricane Sandy devastated our peninsula, our (former) home, and homes of our neighbors and friends. Following that superstorm, I volunteered and did a significant amount of pro bono legal work to help victims.

Visiting and spending time in my home town of over forty years, bearing witness to the damage and destruction, and then trying to help restore significant life momentous with family and friends all washed out into the Atlantic Ocean was heartbreaking. My power as a lawyer was limited — obtain funds to replace household contents, repair and rebuild homes and sometimes even sell the land that was left.

Photo albums, generations old silverware, art from a deceased family member, handed down musical instruments used by family over decades and were still in use . . . all washed away or otherwise damaged beyond repair. Those moments in time and physical items were connected to energies beyond a hurricane, beyond money and beyond the material — I was helpless to truly assist in such matters. Indeed, one lifelong friend who became a Sandy client was featured nearly 10 years ago in your City Room section of The New York Times which reviewed a treasure-trove of musical memorabilia suited for a museum, some never heard before by the public, all gone.

With an obvious beach and water passion our family home away from home since the mid-1970’s has been Sanibel Island. Difficult to reflect upon and write that our two homes 1,000 miles apart were subjected to some of the worst storms recorded in US history.

My family created many memories growing up on Sanibel. This barrier island with the beautiful green and blue Gulf of Mexico as our backyard, dolphins coming close enough to shore so we could look each other in the eyes, shelling galore, friends, long and short family vacations and night skies filled with celestial bodies so clear I would frequently experience a sense of being a close neighbor.

As the years past my folks became snow birds on Sanibel. My wife and I brought our children to visit their grandparents, play on the soft white sand, swim in the Gulf, visit the local restaurants and merchants, shell and walk along the beach like I did as a child. My siblings and their families did the same. Sanibel saw my folks through their parenthood, and the three of us through our formative years, adulthood and our own parenthood. Sanibel was multigenerational and not just for us. We have lifelong friends from all over the U.S. who, like us, converged on Sanibel annually. Some of our friends have children who played with our children on the beach, akin to what we did at their age. What future does Sanibel still hold for our families? Even if we rebuild now will we be confronted with a similar situation next year, or in the near future?

When I first visited Rockaway after Sandy I experienced what I believed at the time was a once in a lifetime moment while standing upon what was left of my friend’s home. The lot with rubble and shards seemed physically small compared to my reflection on the grandeur of the home that once stood. Filled with countless little things and many iconic items I can still see in my mind’s eye so vividly. I was overwhelmed with sadness about the loss and destruction, and those feelings needed to be confronted and begrudgingly accepted.

However, something even greater washed over me in those moments, something ineffable, and it wasn’t about the contents but rather the even greater grandeur of sparks and connections built within that home and which exceeded the walls and roof. The actual small size of the lot became larger over the years in unknown ways not appreciated as time passed. These feelings were beyond five senses and made the experience of standing on rubble surreal.

The incongruity of this enormous yet intangible energy versus the remnants of a house my eyes could no longer see was confusing and sad not only because a loss of the material but the unknown of what would happen to a power that remained in this space now occupied by rubble. On my last trip to Rockaway that lot is now a front lawn for the next-door neighbor who bought it. I don’t recognize the lot but I still feel the sparks.

In looking at our post-Ian Sanibel destructed condo I re-experienced my post-Sandy once in a lifetime moment. The superior force of Ian with winds and surges that destroyed city infrastructures and, like with Sandy, caused long standing bodies of land to become completely submerged under large bodies of water while leaving unaffected the energies created over nearly half a century. Ian’s damage is currently estimated at over $100 billion and is a reckoning of our environmental imbalance.

And yet, with the force to destroy lives and our homes, your article “Sandy Survivors Come to Ian Victims’ Aid” touches on connections made as a consequence of hurricanes 10 years and 1,000 miles apart. Life moments that afford us the opportunity to see what was created in a home but beyond the physical is an awesome realization, one which I have now experienced twice.

Hurricanes are awesome to be sure, and nobody should experience such devastating and destructive forces; but these storms create opportunities to seize and appreciate life even more, to understand that even in the absence of our material objects we create energies that transcend time and space and offer us perspective. Arising from the destructive power of hurricanes, victims of Rockaway and Florida have now connected themselves for causes that transcend the material and regardless of distance will survive in perpetuity.