We love predicting the end of the world. Sure we have the Mayan 2012 end, but who could forget Harold Camping’s prediction of the raptures back in May of 2011. While some decided to stay home to repent in preparation for the predicted raptures, my best friend and I took to the always classy Seaside boardwalk. Not the best place to be when you’re supposedly about to be judged for the rest of eternity (Just watch five minutes of MTV and my point will be proven). Our Rapture day was spent gallivanting up and down the boardwalk, making jokes about a particular dinosaur returning from extinction.
It was minutes before the rapture was scheduled to be upon us (or at least, we guessed. Is the rapture in accordance with EST?). My friend turned to me as we both walk in faked fear –or maybe some of it was real fear, but we’ll never actually admit to that– and asked, “What will we do if it really is the end of the world?”
“Well, I guess then we’re screwed.” And on we went with our day.
The rapture didn’t come, and the world hasn’t ended, but I now have a much better understanding what it actually means for the world to end.. It goes without saying that I have never experienced the actual end of the world, but I have recently gotten pretty close.
I have always lived on the Jersey Shore. When I was younger it was in Keansburg and then I moved to Manchester, so my connection to the area is pretty strong. I grew up going to the beach and hanging out on various boardwalks every night of my summers. No place could ever feel more like home than the Jersey Shore.
So when Hurricane Sandy hit a few weeks ago, it hit hard, both literally and metaphorically speaking. I sat in my Arcadia apartment an hour and a half away from home as I watched collapsing boardwalks and flooded streets from my tiny TV screen. For those who have made their lives around the shore, it definitely felt like the end of the world.
This boardwalk, which I had walked with friends, acted like an idiot on, and stood upon making end of the world jokes, no longer exists.
Two weeks after the storm hit I got the opportunity to go and do restoration work in Keansburg. My entire family comes from that area, and for years my father served as a firefighter for the town, so I felt that I needed to help in any way I could. (Talking to my roommate about it, I was the Nightwing to my father’s Batman; “my father once was a savior to this town, now the time has come for me to restore the peace” -an almost exact quote from me).
No news coverage or pictures on the internet could have prepared me for what I saw. Sidewalks no longer existed. In their place were huge mounds of people’s belongings; from furniture, to photographs, and children’s toys, everyone’s life was thrown out, destroyed, and left for the garbage man to pick up.
Red papers had been stapled to each of the doors, which upon inspection told the residents that their homes were no longer fit to live in and they must immediately leave; this was a mild fate to those who had their notices spray-painted on whatever remained of their homes. One man, the owner of two dogs, remained in his house despite the safety warnings
because he had nowhere to go that would accept his companions. Instead, he lived in the small attic of a converted bungalow, walking the streets during the day.
A few doors down, we helped in one of the many houses that, as per FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) orders, had to cut the drywall and remove the still wet insulation. So there I was, in what was once a recently remodeled living room, quite literally tearing apart someone’s house.
Another man, alone in his home, was clearing out and salvaging as many of his family treasures as he could save. A wedding album was found and frantically taken apart in hopes of salvaging the photographs.
A man who passed us in the streets stopped us and thanked us for volunteering. He and his two children were left homeless and on the streets for two days until he was able to find a temporary residence. Still, he asked us if there is anything that we needed to be more comfortable.
For these people and the thousands others affected, Hurricane Sandy was an end to the world that they knew. What once made up houses, now lays in parking lots once belonging to shopping centers, full of broken memories, stacked up taller than cranes.
There is a small ray of light within all of this destruction. There are troubling times ahead for all of those affected by Sandy on the entire East Coast. Rebuilding will not be easy, but it will be done. The Seaside that I have known all my life will never be there again. Rather, there will be new memories to be made as we enter this new beginning for the Jersey Shore. Hurricane Sandy was strong, but she’ll never be Jersey Strong.