If there is one place I choose to be, it’s at the beach. The salty scents fill the air as the warm sun on my face reminds me I’m grateful to be alive. The waves break and I panic for a second, but just keep swimming. I go home covered in sand every single time. I curse at it, as if the sand purposely wrapped itself in my sheet and towel and swimsuit. But there is something about sandy beach hair that always, always makes me smile.
Hurricane Sandy’s name is far too appropriate. The water met the lands causing early erosion and left so many families with no place to go. Flames destroyed the memories people made, breaking hearts and homes. On November 2nd, I had the privilege of volunteering at Queens College where I personally met victims of this natural disaster as a QC Peer Counselor. My first friend admitted that he was still a using crack addict who’d recently spent whatever was left of his money on the drug. Not only had he lost his home to the hurricane, but six months prior, he lost his wife to a car accident. After five years of being sober he begun using again. For half an hour we talked and he simply spoke to me, a perfect nobody who would come and go. And as he spoke, I kept reminding myself to write this down, make a note of it because people enter our lives for a reason, whether they stay or not. I never did. I did not have time that night to write down a moment that greatly impacted my life, but I wish I had. I wish I had this man’s faults and fears written on a piece of paper in my own handwriting. Something about seeing your own writing gives the words meaning and life. This man’s words painted a very sad picture, but with a potentially hopeful sunset in the distance. He told me he made an appointment to go into a rehabilitation center. He told me he would really go. I believe him. There is hope in darkness.
I regret missing the name of my second friend, but I love the fact he read my nametag and spoke to me as if he had known me since the second grade. This man had a very different message than the first. He took an interest in my life, as if he was concerned with what my future would turn into. When I explained that I want to be an editor, he told me stories and some of his personal thoughts that he believed would help me on my journey. At 10:30 pm, when the lights in the gym slowly shut off, he left me with some simple words of truth. People can tell you everyday to believe in yourself and to follow your dreams, but something about that moment changed me. In the darkness, this man who lost a piece of himself to Sandy thanked me for volunteering, for being there to help him and others. In the darkness, he told me to be unique and follow my dreams–to always believe in myself because I am worth believing in. Something about this experience was different from the first; I had no desire to record these words in my own handwriting. Because this was a more positive encounter, and because it instilled a sense of confidence in me, I do not wish to reread the words in my own writing. It was truly effective because his voice pierced my ears, stirring up the imagination and passion that I had somehow lost. He gave me hope, became a part of the hope I hear and see and use every day. And I like to believe I became a part of his.
Some things in life you just can’t help. You can’t stop the bad in the world, the sorrow from it, or the heartache we feel the next day. But you have the power to do what is right in times of need, to see the good in the world and the people in it. I hope for the beaches, that they remain breathtaking always. I hope for the people who get to enjoy the beauty of the beaches and the beauty of the world. Because after all, life goes on, whether we are ready for it to or not. That is why it is important to acknowledge the good in the world, to stop, take a minute and be grateful for it all. It is important to hold on to the people you love and remember the people who have walked in and out of your life. We shape each other, by being someone’s true love or best friend, by volunteering time and energy, or just by saying hello and smiling to a person passing by. We each play an important aspect in each other’s lives. We can find hope in the ugliest of disasters. Wherever it may be or whomever it may come from, believe in the hope. The people I met during this experience shared stories, harsh realities, and wise words with me. Strangers, people I call my friends but may never see again, used the power and gift of their voice in an influential way. Because of this influence, my young life has been shaped in a significant way.
I didn’t know it was possible for a natural disaster to have positive outcomes and powerful messages. But through the hardest times, the worst hours, and words with friends, great lessons can be learned. When Hurricane Sandy came through our towns and marked our lives forever, I listened to the wind beat against the window. In fear, I closed my eyes and imagined I was walking along the shore. The seashells pinched my bare feet as I strolled along, I smelled the salty scents and felt the warm sun kiss my face. And I was safe.